A mastery of subtext. Psychological complexity. Aesthetic austerity achieved despite the authentic use of period costume and locales. A wholly welcome refusal to slouch toward sentimentality. These are just some of the most important reasons that this film from French director Patrice Leconte must be accounted as among the increasingly prominent artist's finest works. Superb performances from leads Daniel Auteuil, Juliette Binoche, and director Emir Kusturica certainly don't hurt. But it's really the marvelous script by Claude Faraldo and Leconte's intelligent helmsmanship that result in a historical drama as eerily absorbing as a David Lynch film but offering the romantic style, wit, and insight of a Jane Austen adaptation. La Veuve de Saint-Pierre (2000) is a subtle effort with charms that might be lost on a sensibility deadened by years of exposure to the obvious and telegraphed, but viewers with patience and appreciation for quality will be richly rewarded with a devastating, powerful finale.