Customer Reviews: The Lover
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on January 7, 2002
"The Lover" is a gorgeously sensuous and erotic film about a young girl's awakening to love and her own sexuality. Whover categorized this movie as soft porn needs to wash his or her mind out with Lysol. It is, quite simply, a love story.

Jane March plays "the young girl", a French adolescent in colonial Vietnam living with her widowed mother and two brothers. Her mother barely makes ends meet by teaching, her younger brother, with whom she has a relationship both protective and erotic, is weak and passive, and her older brother is brutally antisocial, stealing the family's few funds to support his opium habit and bullying his younger siblings through violence.

The girl attends a lycée in Saigon where she and her friend are the only Caucasian pupils. On a trip from her home back to school she meets "the Chinaman" played by Tony Leung, and their encounter sets off sparks. Leung is the son of a rich overseas Chinese, engaged to marry the Chinese girl picked out by his father, who spends his own days in an opium haze; his feelings for the young girl are at first purely sexual but ripen into a love so deep it confuses and frightens him.

It's a love that is doomed from the start. His father will not hear of him marrying a non-Chinese, and her family, although the equivalent of white trash, still considers themselves better than the Asians they live among. When the word of her affair with the Chinaman gets out, she becomes an outcast among her schoolmates. The young girl tries to cope with the social and emotional conflicts by convincing herself and telling him that she doesn't love him; he knows she's kidding herself and so do we, and toward the movie's end, when she has lost him forever through his marriage to the woman chosen for him by his father and her own repatriation to France, she can't hide from herself the fact that she is deeply in love with him.

Jane March is incredible in the role of the young girl; she brings out all her character's innocence, sexuality and adolescent confusion. Tony Leung is just right as the pampered son of a rich family who is hamstrung by the mores and traditions of his family and society; and Frederique Meininger is especially effective as the mother, who dotes on her worthless older son (the more venal she knows he is, the more she dotes on him, helpless to deal with the reality of what he is, and worse, what he will become), and condemns her daughter's relationship with a Chinese on the one hand while she has no problem taking her daughter's lover's money on the other. The cinematography is beautiful and conveys all the heat and languor of colonial Vietnam.

This is no film for children; the sex scenes are as explicit as can be shown in any film not rated X. At the film's end (Jeanne Moreau does an excellent voice-over throughout the movie), when the Chinaman after decades of silence telephones the girl who is now a middle-aged woman and tells her he has never forgotten her and will love her until death, we realize how strong was the love between these two. It's a beautiful film of two people who were just right, even while they were all wrong, for each other.

Judy Lind
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on July 20, 2005
Before being a cinematographic success The Lover (fr. l'Amant) is a masterpiece of literature, an autobiographical novel written by Marguerite Duras in 1984, in which the author reveals her torrid adolescent relationship with an older and affluent Chinese man in the Saigon of the 1930s. Very few adaptations of novels to the screen have ever been rendered so faithfully. Annaud is known for the meticulousness with which he approaches the details of his films, including the historical ones, and The Lover is no exception

The story is an interior monologue so laconically written that the film's characters aren't even named. Jane Marsh, la jeune fille ("the girl"), acting is effortless and natural, portraying perfectly the ferocious individuality of the adolescent girl. Her resemblance to young Duras is uncanny. Tony Leung Ka Fai, the "Chinaman," is convincing in the role of the vulnerable aristocratic.

The soundtrack, by Gabriel Yared, follows the action well, complementing the scenes, without overwhelming them. The theme, "l'Amant," is equally poetic and lyrical as the text. The dialogue is the manifestation of Duras's writing, and the voice-over sequences are taken verbatim from the novel. The genius of Annaud is again apparent in his choice of Jeanne Moreau for the narrator's part. Moreau's world-weary, destroyed voice could not have been better for conveying the tone of Duras's lyrical writing.

I was rather disappointed while reading more than a dozen American reviews of this film penned by professional film critics. Only one reviewer seemed to be knowledgeable about the author and the position she occupies in world literature. Even one of the most respected film critics, Roger Ebert, seems to have missed the point of the film altogether, and dismissed it lightly. The majority of the film critics concentrated somewhat obsessively on the sexual scenes (which I must admit are rather explicit), to the exclusion of the other themes, and pronounced it soft-core pornography. Since the running time of the film is 111 minutes, and only eight percent of it (a total of nine minutes) shows the two protagonists in explicitly sexual situations, including four and one half of actual lovemaking, I personally think the film hardly qualifies as soft-porn. In my opinion, these movie reviews are the result of the genetic, generic puritan attitude that prevails in the American society. Or maybe the reviewers were asleep during most of the film and only woke up for the "good parts?" So, let's put to bed (no pun intended) the question that this film is somehow pornographic

The Lover is a powerful emotional text, probing deep into the past of the narrator and into France's own colonial past. It explores the intimate relationship between a young, poor white schoolgirl and her rich Chinese lover in the setting of the colonial society of the late 1920s Saigon. It uncovers transgression, desire, separation, and death, the ecstatic and dangerous appeal of the mysterious "other."

The other, arguably as important, theme of the film is relationships -- with her school friend, Helene Lagonelle, the ambivalent tie between the girl and her mother, and the girl's disturbing relationships with her two brothers

Finally, there is an undercurrent theme which runs throughout the film, which is that of boundaries and borders. The film opens with a ferry ride across the Mekong and ends with an ocean crossing, signaling the constant crossing of frontiers and borders: geographic of course, but also racial, cultural, and sexual. These are confronted and sometimes dissolved as the poor white girl of French parentage meets her wealthy Chinese lover in the Cholon, the ill-repute Chinese district of Saigon. She, a white girl, was raised among natives, almost as a native. He is a native who experienced the western culture and somehow longs for it.

There is also the transitory period of the girl's adolescence, between what remains of her childhood, and the onset of her womanhood. On the ferry and on the steam liner, the girl wears a child's pigtails, but she is dressed in women's clothes. The gender roles are somewhat blurred, too: she wears a woman's dress, but also a man's hat, in a color that signifies femininity. The boarding school in Saigon is home mainly to the abandoned mixed-blood daughters of local women and French fathers. The girl has an intimate friendship with Helene Lagonelle, which is ambivalent and perhaps sexually charged. The girl is unable to treat the Chinaman with even a modicum of courtesy when she is with her brothers because he is Chinese, not white. In the public bus, she rides in front, separated from the locals, yet in her private home, she lived as a native. In the cocoon of the garconniere, she is separated from the crowd on the street by only thin cotton blinds. There is even a meta-boundary crossed, as Duras takes her memories and feelings and externalizes them in the form of her writing. What has been internal and private becomes external and public.

The Lover is an autobiographical love story set in a post-colonial environment. We owe the remarkable transcription of this literary masterpiece to the artistry and creativity of Jean-Jacques Annaud. In this production, he has successfully combined two art forms, the beauty of the written word with the fascination of the image. I believe that the film has been, for the most part, misunderstood in this country, and I would recommend a second, more open-minded look at it. It will be a worthwhile experience.
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on January 15, 2005
This is a review of the unrated DVD version of this film. It is so unusual that a cinemagraphic expression lives up to a great work of literature, but Jean-Jacques Annaud gives us the visual rendition of Marguerite Duras' prize winning novel. Annaud captures the poetry and passion of Duras' 1930's Indochina. It is simply a captivating movie to watch. I've seen this movie three times before, but always the Blockbuster "R" version. The sex scenes in the unrated DVD version of the film are simply breathtaking. Contrary to another viewer, below, I find that art and expression of the film is accomplished through the love scenes. After all, the story examines mystery, desire, and forbidden love. The lovers are different, they are more, they are exuberantly liberated when they are together. The love scenes provide the necessary counterpoint to the banality of their lives apart. Their vigorous sexuality underscores the paradox of the rich, and worldly Chinese man who offers himself up to humiliation and abuse from French colonial white-trash, all for the sake of a young girl. Their relationship is viseral and mysterious. Their lovemaking and common language mask yet personify their embodiment of the mutual identities as part of the French and Chinese as colonizers of Vietnam. L'Amant breaks new boundaries as an exploration of forbidden love, anticolonialism, and the suffering people endure because they resign themselves to living their own lies. L'Amant is a beautiful film, brilliantly acted, that says so much by saying so little. The film score by Gabriel Yared is also breathtaking. Cinema doesn't get any better than this. Hollywood is simply incapable of making a movie like this.
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on December 13, 2012
how far is to foo far. Jan March will bring you to the edge of pure un -adulterated sex in an artistic form.. I liked it and everybody else who saw the movie. why she never got an academy award I'll never know..
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on December 1, 2003
Wow, wow, wow...memories of this movie have stayed with me for years. I even recently bought the book on eBay to read the supposedly autobiographical material from which the movie was made. It's gorgeously filmed and directed by Jean-Jacques Annaud, as well, which doesn't hurt with a piece as erotic as this one. It's the tale of a young schoolgirl and her affair with an older Asian man in Indochina in the 20s. He becomes infatuated with her but because of issues of class can never hope to marry her, a situation which seems to be exactly to her liking. She appears to be involved strictly for the physical pleasure.
Terrific and soooo memorable. Some call this movie soft porn; well, if that's so, then I'm all for it!
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on July 19, 2004
For those who think this movie is only carnal, I extend my deepest sympathies for your apparent ignorance. This is a romeo and juliet parallel not to be missed.
This is one of, if not the best, love story ever written. It tells of a young woman, barely 17, whose life is already a tragedy. Her family was thrown from wealth and good standing, to poverty and squalor, scraping by to make ends meet in French occupied Vietnam. She is all but shakespearean in her suffering, without the guidance of a father, and the love of a weak and unscrupulous mother and drug addicted brother. There is much tenderness in the cannonization of the youngest brother, as a living saint, the one pure thing in her life.
The lover, played by Tony Leung Kai Fai, is himself, a tragic hero. Educated in France, he longs to shirk the burden of his chinese culture, buck tradition and marry for love. He is consumed by the forced arranged marriage, and pursues the young Jane March with the guile of an experienced and wealthy man, but with the tenderness and respect of a true lover.
The two make an arrangement to meet in his bachelor pad, which according to chinese tradition, is a "practice area" for marriage. Jane March's young virgin surrenders to passion and experience, while remaining emotionally detatched from her chinese lover, for he tells her that they can "never be married" as it is "not allowed", and he would be disowned and poverty stricken if he went against the wishes of his family. Seemingly, Jane March's character cares little for the potential of this toxic relationship, revelling only in the sexual experience and conversation that they share in their secret room, away from the rest of the world. He is her escape, as surreal as the life she escapes from.
The scenes are intimate and touching, full of tenderness and imagery that conveys the worship like reverence with which they experience each other. He, worshiping her sexual innocence, while she worships his sexual experience. A powerful and erotic culmination.
Truly as story continues, you believe each of the characters less and less, as they joke about how they would not fit in to each others world. They do a wonderful job trying to convince each other that the affair means nothing. It becomes less believable, as you see them fall deeper and deeper into love, and examples of arguments where they truly hurt each other, in the way that only two people in love can wound.
A truly touching ending that had me in tears, as her ship pulls away from the harbour and he is there, in his car, watching her leave.
Highly recommend this movie as a measure to restore your faith in the very real power and strength of love, even when there is no "story book" ending.(...)
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on November 27, 2003
Most people miss the boat in viewing "The Lover." It is a semi-autobiographical novel based purely on memory of a young girl's first sexual awakening - so do not expect an effective visual translation of written words without some visual graphic description - especially when the primary focus of the novel is nuanced on physical love, in the setting of colonial oppression (France - Vietnam), social stratification (wealthy ethnic-Chinese enclave in Vietnam - poor French nationals living in colonial outposts), racial separation (native Asians - colonial Whites), then later, the realization of right-and-wrong (the mother apologizing to Tony Leung about her children's bad behaviour), and finally higher emotional love (Jane March's heart-broken scene on the ocean liner).
In addition, this movie was told from an impoverished, uneducated, inexperienced, naïve, but yet elitist colonial French girl's point-of-view, in the 1920's Vietnam. (Also remember that the younger Marguerite Duras was actually more Vietnamese than French.). call this movie a kiddie-porn / soft-porn in disguise is unfair - it IS about sex between a fifteen-year-old girl and a thirty-two-year-old man, no pretense here. To criticize a certain scene as "disguised rape" is unfair - it WAS rape, a perfect cinematic description sexual aggression, control, and power. Things must be kept in context of the time and place. If one were to criticize every aspect of this film, then let's not make a film about colonialism, inequality of race or wealth, or any other wrong doing in the world.
And finally, how the French look at love and sex is different from many other cultures. This movie is based on a French novel (one of many versions on the same theme by Marguerite Duras), as such, there is an expectation that the audience should know the plot already, and the movie should be treated as a visual extension - or one could say, a "validation"- of their imagery when reading the novel (How would anyone know what Colonial Vietnam looked like without moving visual images on screen?).
I agree that the sex scenes border on soft-porn (one cannot make a successful intellectual movie nowadays without it being filmed in English, as well as some artful sex-scene thrown in); however, it was cleverly done. And it is true that if these scenes were to be deleted from the movie, the rest would not make sense - because the novel was based on those bedroom scenes that subsequently shaped and formed Marguerite Duras's life. I recommend, if you speak French, to watch the movie in the French soundtrack. It provides a more authentic feel to the period (of course, the actors' mouths would not match the sound...but for Europeans, it is not of great detriments, as they are used to multi-culture casting.)
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on October 23, 2000
The scenery in this movie is gorgeous. The plot is very well-developed, orginal, and not to mention risky- a young girl with an older man in an interracial relationship in the 1920's. This is a deep look at a young girl's coming of age and early sexuality. It is her first look at adult life, and is a good escape from her "white trash" family, poor surroundings, and boarding school where she is one of only two white students. The older man becomes not only her lover but her escape. Her character can be dislikable because she is always brutally honest; however, she is true to herself and honestly does not know if she loves the man or if she is confusing love with power, acceptance, sexual awakening, access to money, or anything else. The man insists the whole time that he loves her and seems sincere, although there is one part where he says that the only white women he could ever get were prostitutes, so he could have an ulterior motive of being with a willing white partner. In any case, this movie is a unique and sincere portrait of two very different people, both alienated in the world they live in, both aching for love, sex, and something different in their respective lives. This movie is very erotic and moving, but it also has a great, often very sad, plot. It is fantastically directed and acted out. Anyone looking for a fascinating perspective on the old unrequited love plot will enjoy it.
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on May 14, 2014
This movie is kind of wacked. I really liked it. The acting is good, the direction is good. If you have read any of Duras books or seen any of her movies this movie follows the book pretty well and it isn't as wacked as some of her movies.

The story is that a young French girl living in French occupied Vietnam in the 1930's has an affair with a rich, young, Chinese man. As you can imagine besides being controversial because it was an inter-racial affair the young man pays the girl, who generally gives the money to her mother. The love scenes are very good. The presentation of Vietnam in the 1930's looks very good to me. The acting and the direction are very good.
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on July 19, 2000
I take it from the reviews on this site that people can't stand this film because they perceive that it has "no depth", or that its just a porno, or has too many "highbrow" aspirations, or that the voice over is redundant.
I can understand how the film can be seen as so. Everytime a film maker tries to do something different with film narrative he gets a whack. Yes, this film is sylistic. Yet it is far less stylistically innovative than the book by Duras, the blueprint which veins this film. The book is one of the most successful experiments in narrative - it is the most amazing experience to read it, and I highly recommend it - but not to anyone who is impervious to originality, and only wants the old 1-2-3, beginning-middle-end progression. However, back to the film, I think that the voice-over is to re-create the feeling of the book which loops from present to past and shifts narrative perspective continually, and also to draw attention to the lushness and sensuality of the subject matter. It creates an almost voyeuristic thrill. Why else: look at me, I'm fifteen ... And yes, I can imagine that this would disturb people, to be made more aware than usual of the vouyeurism of cinema, to be aware that they are watching someting of great sensuality and emotional complexity. I felt that the camera had a sensitivity to detail which was almost painful to watch, in that little things; the flutter of silk, the stain on the lips, and even shadows, seem to be laden.
Yes, the story is perverse. Duras herself admits to perversity - and she also had noted that sometimes people will not understand that perversity, and will therefore never understand her. Or the film, for that matter, which is a perverse thing of great beauty.
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