One of my favorite independent movies is a little, unknown gem, Belizaire the Cajun. It's not for everyone, so my recommendation of it always comes with a caveat. The movie is written and directed by Glen Pitre with great affection and authenticity, and it's that authenticity that probably makes the movie a challenge for a lot of people. It takes place in the back bayou country of 19th-century Louisiana and spoken with thick, heavy Cajun accents, no quarter given for making it easy on the audience. So, although the movie is all in English, you're going to miss a third of the dialogue. But as long as that concept doesn't bother you, know that you'll follow everything with ease. It's a joyful, dirt-under-the-fingernails, quirky, rambunctious, exuberant tale of a flamboyant flimflammer (in many ways, a Zorba the Greek-like character) living on the edge of society with his wits, conniving and charm (all of which are are in great supply), who's reluctantly become the bothersome spokesman of his fellow Cajuns that the rest of the good people in the area would like to drive away.
The movie stars Armande Assante, and it's what made me a massive fan of his. He was at his peak as a romantic leading man when this film was made in 1986. Suave, always elegant, often tough, perhaps best known as the 'Dandy Don,' John Gotti in the HBO movie, and as Judy Benjamin's cheating French husband in Pvt. Benjamin, opposite Goldie Hawn.
Assante is not only still making movies today, 40 years after he started his career, but this year alone he shot or had released an amazing NINE movies. That's not "still working," that's not pausing for a breath. That's trying t one-up Michael Caine.
But in Belizaire the Cajun, Armande Assante shed his matinee-idol persona and showed that he was actually a very real actor (something that the subsequent years have well-proven). There isn't a hint of elegance or savoir-fair in his performance as 'Belizaire Breaux,' not a wink the his fans that "okay, you know it's really me...!", as he's as scruffy as you could happily want for the role, almost to the point of being unrecognizable. A full-flowing beard, long unkempt hair, scraggly clothes, down-and-dirty, rough hewn and earthy. In short, he doesn't play 'Armande Assante' as many other actors might, he's Belizaire.
That he took such a mangy role -- and for such a tiny movie -- is part of why I was so impressed. (That he's so great in it, of course, is the main reason.) But I suspect that those are the very reasons he did take the role, to show producers what he could actually do.
The movie likely got made because of the involvement of Robert Duvall, who has a small role in the film as a preacher and I believe serves as executive producer. (On the DVD, he's actually listed first -- boy, won't that be a shock to people who rent it to see him... -- though the cover does at least highlight Aramande Assante's name.) What probably helped get Duvall interested in the movie is that the female lead, Gail Youngs, was...well, married to him at the time. Thank heavens for nepotism, in this case.
Also jubilant in the film is the great Cajun score, written by the wonderful Michael Doucet and performed by him with his group Beausoleil. This song below isn't from the movie, but it's from Doucet with Beausoleil and in the very same spirit.
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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