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'Belizaire the Cajun'

By Rita Kempley
Washington Post Staff Writer
November 21, 1986


Glen Pitre
Armand Assante;
Gail Youngs;
Michael Schoeffling;
Stephen McHattie;
Will Patton
Parental guidance suggested

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FILMMAKER and part-time shrimp boater Glen Pitre celebrates his ethnicity in "Belizaire the Cajun," a folksy period piece shot on the cheap down in the mossy, mysterious Louisiana bayous. It's billed as a romantic comedy, but Cajun humor, like crawfish gumbo, takes some getting used to.

Pitre's fable, like something a lesser Uncle Remus might have spun, concerns a sly fox of a hero who outwits the greedy local gentry to save his endangered skin. It's set in the late 1850s when English-speaking vigilantes began to persecute the Acadian settlers to force them off their lands.

Armand Assante plays Belizaire, a happy-go-lucky folk healer who is framed for murder when he connives to save his kinsmen from the vigilantes. And Gail Youngs costars as his former sweetheart Alida, whose continued friendship with him enrages her vigilante husband (Will Patton). When the husband is murdered, suspicion falls on the attentive old flame.

Assante creates a memorable characterization, something of a cross between B'rer Rabbit and the Hunchback of Notre Dame, but strangely attractive. Youngs is arresting as the dark, desirable Alida, part coquette, part sturdy pioneer. She also costarred in "The Stone Boy" with husband Robert Duvall, who serves as a creative consultant and has a cameo role here.

Aside from Assante and Youngs' performances, the film primarily showcases Cajun arts and crafts, hurdy-gurdy music and step-dancing. Real-life Louisianans stroll under the cypress in white bonnets and beat their clothes clean with battoir in sparkling streams. And the local extras speak a fascinating franglais and fiddle joyous old tunes on violins made in Paris in 1779 and 1793.

Alas, the storyline's muddy and the plot threadbare -- just like an old B-cowboy with posse after posse, shoot-outs and necktie parties. Even the movie's surprising occult conclusion is long and overplayed.

If you relish regionalism or crave more than blackened catfish, "Belizaire" may whet your appetite. But it sure won't fill you up. -- Rita Kempley. BELIZAIRE THE CAJUN (PG) -- At the Key.

© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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