101 of 103 people found the following review helpful
This deeply felt and emotionally rich portrait of a country about to change forever is one of the most beautiful films ever made. It is elegant and opulent in its visual presentation and subtle in its human tale of heartbreak. This film has the majesty of morning sunlight on water we dare not shield our eyes from for fear we will miss one moment of its glory.
Director Reigis Wargnier has created a masterpiece of epic beauty, showing us the country of Vietnam when it existed as the French colony Indochine. He shows how and why the communist uprising was so popular and the way of life it threatened. It does not make judgements but shows the human drama and the heartbreak caused by a way of life that existed and the one that was coming to change it.
Wargnier accomplishes all this in a slow and visually stunning portrait of one family in Indochine. The story is centered around the magnificent performance of Catherine Deneuve as French rubber plantation owner Eliane Deveries, and the equally terrific Linh Dan Phan as her adopted Indochine daughter Camille. The contrasts of Eliane's cool elegance and Camille's young and sensual beauty is like a mirror for the country itself as Wargner shows the difference between the French and those that serve them.
Eliane runs her rubber plantation with the help of her 'coolies' and it appears to be her entire life except for her daughter Camille. But Eliane's cool outward elegance only masks the repressed emotions she hides from others. Her affairs have been casual and she believes indifference is the secret to surviving love. But that indifference changes dramatically as she finally falls hard for young French Naval Officer Vincent Perez (Jean-Baptiste Le Guen). She throws herself at him as he draws away and discovers she is not enough for Vincent.
There is much unrest at the class distinctions of Indochine. Eliane's Indochine is one of elegance and self-indulgence. It is a world of Fitzgerald and Gatsby. The world of the Indochene people is more severe. This film takes its time showing us all that is beautiful about the country and slowly begins to show the darkness underneath that beauty when Camille falls in love with Vincent also. Eliane is stunned beyond words but not actions as she uses her clout to have him transferred to the farthest outpost so Camille can go through with an arranged marriage to Tanh (Eric Nguyen).
But Eliane has underestimated her daughter's love for Vincent and she runs away to find him. Vincent has learned about the slave trade which provides Eliane and others like her with their workers in this remote French outpost and sees firsthand its brutality. When Camille finds him it is during the picking of these workers and a tragedy forces both to flee to a place hidden and supposedly cursed, where their love will bloom and a legend will start. There are some tender and moving moments and some true heartbreak involving a baby.
As the communist revolution grows stronger and Camille is imprisoned, Vincent will meet Eliane once more. It is only when Camille is imprisoned that she is even sure she is alive. Her long time aquaintance Guy (Jean Yanne) has been searching for years as the legend of this young beauty has grown so that everyone in the country knows the story. Once released she will be the one to help change the country forever, but not before a heartbreaking meeting with her mother and a sacrifice of love.
This film may indeed be slow but it is emotionally rich and the visual beauty of the country itself is magnificently captured. Deneuve's cool elegance is perfect for the part and her Oscar nomination was well deserved. Linh Dan Phan is wonderful as Camille as she goes from the innocence of dancing with her mother to a symbol for her entire country. There are no judgements made here. This is a human film and not a political one. This film is what a Renoir painting would be if it could leave the canvas and find our hearts. It is an impression of a country and a time rather than a clear photograph.
Those who watch this film and stay with it will be richly rewarded. Few films can make the claim to be art, but this is one. Its quiet beauty and sorrow you will not soon forget. You must see, and own, this magnificent film.
66 of 68 people found the following review helpful
on November 21, 2001
From the opening sequence of a royal funeral to the last shot of Deneuve in Switzerland, this movie had me enthralled. It has everything that makes a movie exceptional: strong acting from its leads, beautiful cinematography, a romantic and emotionally wrenching love story, a tense historical backdrop, beautiful actors and a well-plotted storyline. This movie draws you in, pulling you into that beautiful and passionate world of 1930's Indochina. (Indochina was the collective name of Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos when they were still under French control)
The story revolves around a powerful French, plantation owner Eliane (Deneuve), her adopted Indochinese daughter Camille (Pham) and the French naval officer who romances these two women, Jean Baptiste (Perez). The movie starts off with Eliane having an illicit affair with the young Jean-Baptiste, only to have her heart broken when the officer starts feeling claustrophobic in their relationship. Unfazed, Eliane carries on with her life, running a lucrative business and raising the lovely Camille into the ways of the French. But things go awry when Camille and Jean-Baptiste accidentally meet. Believing that Jean-Baptiste saved her life, Camille falls head over heels in love with her mother's former lover. Thinking it in her daughter's best interest, Eliane uses her influence on the government to have Jean-Baptiste sanctioned to some remote outpost of Indochina. But a strong-willed Camille defies family and society and ventures into the countryside, alone, to join Jean-Baptiste. Along the way, Camille discovers first-hand the sufferings of her people under the French. When the two young lovers reunite, it is under circumstances that forces them to flee and hide from the authorities. To make things more complicated, the communist movement is gaining momentum, embroiling Camille and Jean-Baptiste in a situation that is beyond their (even Eliane's) control.
I've seen this movie more times than I can count, and everytime, it never fails to move me. Deneuve is gorgeous as ever and her acting is superb. She plays the scorned lover, worried mother and stern manager with amazing elegance and restraint, without making her character look stiff. She definitely deserved that Best Actress nomination. Vincent Perez is perfectly cast as the passionate Jean-Baptiste. With his dark, good-looks and amazing acting talent, he easily conveys all the ambiguities, and later on, the passions of Jean-Baptiste. But the real discovery here is Linh Dam Pham. She is stunningly beautiful as Camille and does so much with so little. Her role is underwritten, but with her sincerity and talent, Camille comes off alive and full of passion. A mere glance here and there and you see everything that Camille is feeling. Her Camille is an unforgettable heroine.
There is also amazing chemistry between the actors. Deneuve and Perez sizzle in their scenes. It is easy to see the passion that drove these two into their affair. But the most unforgettable and emotionally-charged scenes are those between Perez and Pham. Simple gestures and exchanged looks convey a deep and abiding love between the two characters. Their scenes in Halong bay can melt any cynic's bitter-shell.
Apart from being a romantic epic, Indochine is a rare honest look at the events that led to Vietnam's independence from France. The bloodshed, the filth, the oppression...it's all there. Nothing is glossed over. Kudos to the French for their honesty and reflection.
This movie should definitely be in any person's video library. When the end credits start rolling, the images will continue to haunt you. By then, you'll be glad you own the DVD. You can play it over and over again to your heart's content.
90 of 101 people found the following review helpful
Sometimes I don't think the critics watch the films they review. I was stunned by this film. The cinematography is brilliant--the colors, the pagentry, the filth, the blood, the dreamy quality of a boat with two lovers drifting through those thousands of little vertical islands that lie off the coast of Asia so faithfully depicted in Chinese brush paintings and Blue Willow porcelein.
Catherine Deneuve is gorgeous. If any criticism can be leveled at the film it is that she is so beautiful, and her clothing so stunning it can be distracting at times. Her young lieutenant lover whose name excapes me (Queen Margot's lover) is smoldering. Her adopted (Vietnamese) daughter is a China doll.
The story takes place in what was French Indochina before WWII, and later became the countries of Viet Nam, Cambodia, and Thailand. The story centers on a rubber plantation owner (Deneuve) and her relationship with her adopted daughter. Deneuve raises the girl to have the European values. The daughter falls in love with a young French Lieutenant who has been until then the mother's lover. The mother does not want her daughter to be involved with this man for a variety of reasons. The daughter runs away and links up with the Lieutenant. On her journey, she sees first hand the plight of her native people. She becomes pregnant by the Lieutenant. Events lead her to become involved with the revolution against the French. If this film had been shown to American audiences back in the 1960's it would have been inflammatory. Might have started a peace movement.
21 of 21 people found the following review helpful
on December 19, 2005
This movie is one of my most favorites, and it is definitely the best when it comes to Asian-women-related film-making. The love triangle is quite enjoyable to follow and should satisfy all those who seek a romantic epic. The cinematography, the conversations, the directing, etc. are all excellent. And the actors/actresses and their acting are all good as well.
But what really makes movie outstanding is the way it portrays life as it was in Indochina in the 1930s. The movie is neither in favor of the French nor of the Vietnamese nationalists. It's neither in favor of the rich nor the poor. Everyone's life seem hard at the time, although some people's lives were much harder than others'. Everyone seems helpless against history, including the rich and the powerful. For example, that brief part about the slave trader is one of my favorite parts in the movie. Just like in other movies, he is the villain of the story, and he totally deserved to die. But then there was still something helpless about him, as if his life and its ending were not really his choice, as if both of them were just part of how life was at the time.
What I like most about the movie is how it portrays the image of Vietnamese women. I'm so SICK of Hollywood movies in which Asian women are always some sort of prostitues or suppressed/vulnerable women in need of help and protection ("The Quiet American" is an example of this). Yes, it is true that there are a lot of those women, especially in the old times, but such women are by no means representative of the whole female population. Yet through Hollywood movies, such wrong images about Asian women have somehow become stereotypes. "Indochine" is the first and only movie I know of that deviates from this main stream. In "Indochine", we see a Vietnamese girl who grew up in wealth and happiness, who might seem weak and vulnerable at first but needs noone's help or protection in the end, not because she comes from high class and is rich, but because she is a woman of strength and courage.
It's beautiful the way she gradually became a nationalist. Throughout her childhood, she was well protected from and hence knew nothing of the sufferings of her native country and people. Still, she is full of passion and spirit by nature, and that's why and how she had the courage to run away to find the man that she loved. Before she was aware of the outside world or of nationalism, all the passion and spirit inside her were directed toward her love for a man. As expected, those same passion and spirit were later on channeled toward her love for her country and people. This is the kind of image of Vietnamese/Asian women that should be represented more in movies.
14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on October 26, 2004
Despite winning the academy award for Best Foreign Language Film in 1992, this film is universally panned by American critics who focus primarily on Catherine Deneuve, the movie's box office draw. But the story is not soley about Deneuve's character, rubber plantation owner Eliane Devries, and is indeed too large for any single character. The story's real focus is most fully developed in the second half of the film as adopted princess Camille (Linh Dan Pham) discovers her true legacy in French colonial Vietnam. During her epic quest to find her to-be lover, French naval officer Jean-Baptiste, the harsh brutality against her people and the startling beauty of her country are revealed through stunning cinematography that is at times cathedral in its beauty. One particularly moving and highly symbolic scene depicts Jean-Baptiste baptizing their infant son just moments before his capture (Baptiste unwittingly becomes a fugitive from the colonial society of which it is his sworn duty to protect). Ironically, the child of this unlikely union is not raised by either parent but by Eliane Devries, and himself symbolizes the mingled, uncertain future of the "Pearl of the Orient."
I am deeply moved every time I watch this epic drama which has become hands-down my favortite foreign film, but I'm obviously in the minority, at least among American viewers. The various subplots and central characters subtly yet powerfully symbolize the undercurrents within a French colonial society intent on imposing its identity on the Vietnamese society desperate to salvage its own. I would love to read some reviews by foreign viewers, particularly French and Vietnamese, of whom this tragic history concerns most deeply. In the meantime, check out Dennis Littrellis' review, which is critically insightful, here at Amazon.
15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
on April 24, 2003
Last night I had a chance to watch this movie again. Somehow, for the first time, I felt as it was an opera. Music was there, the voices were there, the theme was there and everything was so perfect as an Italian opera of the greatest composer. I took my time, I really did, to find anything wrong with this film and I could not. Now, let me tell you that I am a picky one. I can take apart anything if I don't like it and sometimes if I like it. But this one was so bulletproof that I faild to find the whole in it.
So, I guess, "Indocine" is one of very rare accasions in the cinematography when everything is perfect. How did they do it? I guess they just lived it. Well, if you have not seen it, you have to do it. This is not a movie to miss.
16 of 18 people found the following review helpful
on January 3, 2001
This is one of the best films I've ever seen. It combines great acting, beautiful scenery, and a political background that provides a full(as full as they can get with the length of the movie) perspective while drawing the viewer in. Catherine Deneuve is spectacular all throughout this romance/drama/time period piece. Also the clever blend of odd and sometimes naive characters mixed in gives it a realistic touch.
It seems, in fact, to be two movies woven together. They fit so perfectly together, though, because of the way the plot unravels. The first portion centering around the female plantation owner and her relations with a soldier, and the second portion which focuses more on her Indochinese adopted daughter who chases after her first love--the same soldier. Tied in is the sentimental story of Sao and her family.
Everything about this movie is marvelous. The only thing that may scare away some of the viewers is the length of the movie, which I think just allows it to be more in depth. Indochine is A MUST SEE, especially for foreign-flick fans.
11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on September 17, 2003
Catherine Deneuve plays a French planatation owner (Eliane) in colonial Vietnam whose relationship with the Vietnamese orphan girl (Camille) she adopted seems intended to allegorically mirror the political shift also depicted in the movie from a French colonial Vietnam to a nation struggling for liberation and identity. Superbly filmed and accompanied by a lush musical score, the film shows some stunning shots of the Vietnamese landscape particularly as Camille journeys through Vietnam after she flees her home. The movie is long (about 2 1/2 hours), and at times the emotions may seem played over the top. But Catherine Deneuve hits a poignant emotional climax towards the end of the movie, outside of the conference site of the Vietnam War peace talks in Paris. Well worth the over two hour wait.
10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on June 20, 2004
Few films touch my mind, heart and soul at once. This one does. It presents strong, multidimensional characters in complex situations, and who change, grow, and cope with challenges and tragedy in sometimes surprising ways. I am stunned to see the reviews that saw the actors as wooden, the directing inconsistent, or the story lacking: they didn't see what I saw, suggesting that different experiences lead to different perceptions. This film can be seen at many levels and with many interpretations: among them, it showed how individuals may support tyranny with the best of intentions, oppression must fail, and change requires sacrifice...love may conquer, but perhaps not as one hopes for individual joy. There were no innocents, no ineffably strong heroes in this film. The characters portrayed people with whom I could relate, and understand, and cry for. Yet all of the central characters had (at least at some point) participated in enforcing oppression, or committed murder for various compelling reasons. It shows that those who accept the call to fight injustice may be compelled to sacrifice their personal happiness if not their lives-- and their motives are not necessarily noble. The film provides insight to the history that led to the Vietnam war, and relevant perspectives for reflecting on present problems of terrorism, cultural imperialism, and political justifications for war. As in life, there is no single correct view, no one correct line of action, only flawed humans, inadequate policies, and political systems dedicated to reinforcing a status quo. And Indochine shows the failures, the struggles and the human drama...will we ever learn from history?
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on October 8, 2006
I would say that this film is a grand mixture of exotic and natural beauty and complexity. The complexity is multifaceted; the complexity of character development, the complexity of an unfolding plot, and the complexity of changing world politics.
Lets start with beauty. The cinematography and art direction in the film is superb, Vietnam is shown to be an amazingly magical land of changing landscapes and architecture. The cast of the film was superb. Catherine Deneuve, plays wealthy rubber plantation owner Eliane Deveries. Ms. Deneuve is a legendary beauty but in this film we see her playing the role of a woman approaching 40 and we see a mature, sophisticated, strong beauty. The front cover of the DVD should give you a clue as you see Ms. Deneuve marching through a courtyard of crouching Vietnamese slave laborers in a low cut bright red dress and pearls! Vincent Perez, as Lieutenant Jean-Baptiste Le Guen, is very handsome but it is his character development that it most importance in this film. LInh Dan Phan, as the young Camille, goes from high school girl to Communist icon. She is youthful perfection and thus the contrast between Camille's soft budding beauty and womanhood is contasted with her adopted mother's cool sophisticated mature grand beauty.
Now for the complexity. Our three main characters are in for some major changes in their lives and world views. We start with Eliane, a woman totally in control of her emotions and source of income, rearing an adopted heiress native girl on the brink of womanhood. Jean-Baptiste, a dashing young Lieutenant, begins the film as an adventuerer, attracted to older rich Eliane, not only for her beauty but because she would be a conquest. He has callous disregard for the Vietnamese people. In an early scene he orders a boat burned with a Vietnamese family aboard because they are in the canal after curfew. Love for Camille jerks him from his existence as a French naval officer to a military deserter traveling with a band of Communist insurgents. Camilla starts the film as a Catholic School girl, an heiress to the vast lands of her natural parents and to her adopted mother, Eliane. She is destined to be the wife of a young Chinese mandarin but her love of Jean-Baptiste moves her to incredible acts of challenge and survival that transforms her from a spoiled young princess to a legendary icon of the liberation movement. There are other characters of importance, but the Police Captain, played by Jean Yanne, is a wonderful character. Whereas the other characters go through vast changes, he remains the same; a cynical, world-weary, wise, older man. He knows the French suppresse the Vietnamese for financial gain, but he is resigned to play his role of trying to identify the insurgents and suppress them. He knows the French have become decadant, but he is no saint and becomes lovers with a night-club singer. It is his commentaries, primarily to Eliane, that tell the story of the rise of the Vietnamese nationalistic and communistic movements and the fall of the French empire in Indochina.
As in many works of great literature, the character development of the main actors is interwoven with historical movement to which they must repond and in responding are transformed. This is certainly the case here as we see a French colonial empire full of the explotation and racism, social economic suppression, slave labor, classism, and decadence that occurs whenever one group of people exploits and suppresses another group.
Vietnam was suppressed first by the Chinese and thus Chinese mandarin families had remained the upper class in much of Vietnam. The lived there for generations, intermarried some with the Vietnamese, but retained the upper rungs of the economic and social structure. The French allowed these Chinese to remain when they established military and economic control. The nationalistic and communistic movements were against both the Chinese upper class and the French military/economic class.
As American audiences attempt to make sense of the Vietnamese war, it is films like this that reveal to us the historic suppression of these people and their innate desire for self-direction. We entered Vietnam to prop up a corrupt French empire, thus setting the stage for Vietnamese nationalists to seek help from Moscow and to move toward Communism. How foolish we were. It all boils down to those that do not know history are unfortunately fated to repeat it.