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Catherine Deneuve earned an Oscar(r) nomination for this Academy Award(r)-winning (Best Foreign Language Film, 1992) tale of passion and revolution in colonial Vietnam. Deneuve stars as Elaine Devries, the seemingly repressed owner of a prosperous rubber plantation in French Indochina. Her steely exterior, however, is only a mask intended to hide her torrid love affairs from upperclass society. But when her adopted Indochinese daughter innocently falls in love with Eliane's secret lover, the scandalous lovers' triangle threatens to destroy their entire family. A sensual story of unbridled passionset against the violence of the bloody Communist uprising, INDOCHINE is a historically accurate, emotionally wrenching epic of love and war.
- Unrated International version
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In colonial-era Vietnam, Jean-Baptiste played by the super handsome Vincent Perez, is a dashing French naval captain; Elaine (Catherine Deneuve) is an independent and wealthy plantation owner of French parentage; and her adopted Vietnamese daughter, Camille (Linh Dan Pham), are the three points of a cross-cultural romantic triangle. As the struggle against European imperialism sweeps Indochina, Jean-Baptiste and Camille have to choose sides and the strong Eliane faces the emotionally difficult challenge of raising the child of her daughter and ex-lover. What a position to be in... I do confess, I could look at Vincent Perez all day but the story was just so watchable...Highly recommended!
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.
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.
I bought this film to replace a VHS copy at the local French video library.