"Belizaire the Cajun" is deep in the terrain of bayou country. It's as atmospheric as a swamp--and often just as murky.
But Armand Assante's performance as the title character, a wry healer with a talent for leading his fellow Cajuns, lifts the movie above what it might have been. His layered portrayal holds you, even when the plot bogs down.
Writer-director Glen Pitre, a Harvard graduate who grew up in Cajun Louisiana, puts us in the middle of a fight between Cajun settlers and hot-headed vigilantes in the late 1850s. Xenophobia turns to violence, and Assante's Belizaire becomes the unlikely hero of the Cajun resistance.
Belizaire has his own little skirmishes with romance; he loves the good-looking, flirty wife of a powerful plantation owner (Will Patton). It spells trouble for everybody.
Pitre errs on a few fronts, mainly in exposition. It's never clear exactly why the Cajuns are so detested (paranoia, hatred for their Catholicism, dislike for zydeco?), and the key relationships are somewhat obscure.
On the good side, the movie's look is appealingly authentic, and there's a sense of the culture in most scenes. And then there's Assante's charismatic performance, a combination of provocative defiance and hopeless acceptance of the fate of the persecuted.
"Belizaire the Cajun" (1986), written and directed by Glen Pitre. 100 minutes. Rated PG.