Starring: Catherine Deneuve, Vincent Perez, Linh Dan Pham
Director: Régis Wargnier
Distributor: Umbrella World Cinema
No-one does passion quite like the French. And no-one does it on-screen quite like Catherine Deneuve. Her cool presence seems to mask a seething desire that never fails to excite. In Indochine, it’s an impossibly handsome naval officer several years her junior who falls under its spell. Within days of their meeting, Jean-Baptiste (Vincent Perez) is launching himself on her, in character here as Elaine, a glamorous rubber baroness presiding over a 6,000 hectare plantation just outside of Saigon. Initially, she resists his advances but he soon claims victory and just as quickly neglects her, leaving an emotional train wreck in his wake.
In lieu of a family of her own, Elaine has adopted the Princess of Annam, whose parents perished in a plane crash when she was just a child. Camille (Linh Dan Pham) has now grown into an exquisite young woman and Elaine takes great pride in her education which includes teaching her fashionable dances like the tango. One day, when rescued from a skirmish in town by the dashing Jean-Baptiste, Camille is smitten by love at first sight. It’s an impossible situation and Elaine resolves it by having Jean-Baptiste banished to a remote outpost in the stunningly beautiful Ha-long Bay.
It’s the early ’40s and the French are still very much in power, to the extent of presiding over slave markets in such far flung corners of the country. Over the next 15 years or so, their grasp will begin to slip, just like Elaine’s control over her own closely guarded emotional life will likewise start to falter. To quell her anxiety, she hits the local opium dens and succumbs to the numbing narcotic, only to be brought back from the brink to discover that Camille has fled her clutches and has set off in pursuit of Jean- Baptiste. An old merchant matriarch sums it all up when she says; “I’ll never understand French people’s love stories. So much folly, fury and suffering.”
This tumultuous tale won an Oscar and a Golden Globe Award for Best Foreign Film in 1993, epitomising, as it does, the oriental colonial fantasy. With a rousing score by Patrick Doyle, who has just composed the soundtrack for Wah-Wah – another colonial epic by Richard E. Grant, Indochine thoroughly seduces and rewards the discerning viewer. It also gives a taste of life in Vietnam before it was ravaged by the ill-fated war.