Although thoroughly French, Regis Wargnier's INDOCHINE, starring Gallic icon Catherine Deneuve, is as calculated and pre-packaged as anything conceived in contemporary Hollywood. This florid, would-be epic centers on Eliane (Deneuve), the doyenne of a rubber plantation in French colonial Indochina, and her greatest joy, her adopted Indochinese daughter...read more
Although thoroughly French, Regis Wargnier's INDOCHINE, starring Gallic icon Catherine Deneuve, is as calculated and pre-packaged as anything conceived in contemporary Hollywood.
This florid, would-be epic centers on Eliane (Deneuve), the doyenne of a rubber plantation in French colonial Indochina, and her greatest joy, her adopted Indochinese daughter Camille (Linh Dan-pham). Their rapport is so complete that they regularly wow the other planters at parties with a very
piquant mom-and-daughter tango. Eliane's dignified existence is further enlivened by the appearance of Jean-Baptiste (Vincent Perez), a dashing French officer whose orders initially bring him into hostile contact with the plantation owner. The capable young soldier seduces first mother and then,
more lastingly, daughter.
The enraged Eliane pulls strings to have Jean-Baptiste transferred to the remote regions of the Gulf of Tonkin, but lovestruck Camille doggedly pursues him. En route, she hooks up with a pack of Communist rebels, is taken prisoner by the French and becomes a legend of the resistance when she kills
a sadistic officer. Camille is then reunited with Jean-Baptiste, and the star-crossed lovers have a son together before literally disappearing into the horizon, leaving the stoic, noble Eliane to pass their story onto their child.
The filmmakers responsible for INDOCHINE seem to have reasoned that, to make the kind of money a GONE WITH THE WIND or DR. ZHIVAGO rakes in, you have to spend it; at an estimated $21 million, this is one of the costliest productions in the history of the French cinema. They also tried to cover all
the commercial bases by throwing in a "colorful" historical background; a host of age-encrusted racial and dramatic stereotypes; some artily torrid sex scenes; a dash of gore; and, most essentially, a star synonymous with Gallic charm and glamor.
Wargnier's direction has a miniseries-like impersonality. He shamelessly pumps things up from time to time with clarions of thundering muzak, prettily overripe photography and the odd, artfully composed set piece (opium dens and whorehouses galore; Eliane and Jean-Baptiste consummating their
passion in the back seat of her car, while her chauffeur dutifully stands outside in the rain, etc.) Four individuals are credited with the screenplay, which is a rummage sale of bad ideas, operatic coincidence and tired cliches.
A charismatic, even eccentric, performance in the lead role, a la Laurence Olivier in THE BETSY, can on occasion redeem this kind of clunky melodrama. INDOCHINE, however, gives us a Deneuve who, in the grandest MGM tradition of Greer Garson, is too pallid and ladylike to provide any real juice. It
should be remembered that her most memorable film appearances have been as a beautiful, passive reactor to the surreal promise of life as envisioned by such as Bunuel or Polanski. INDOCHINE's Eliane is, above all else, a feisty instigator of the events around her, and calls for more than elegant
posing in diaphanous tea gowns and the occasional set of a chiseled jaw.
The men in the cast go too far in the other direction. Perez seems to think he's in a pirate swashbuckler, while Jean Yanne, as a longtime admirer of Eliane, is an obstreperous bore in the tradition of Jose Ferrer at his noisiest. Lin Dan Pham's Camille is predictably delicate, abject and
touching; only Dominique Blanc, a kind of pocket-sized Gallic Bette Davis, breaks through the tedium with a flashy turn in the small part of a wayward Frenchwoman. (Violence, substance abuse, nudity, sexual situations, adult situations.)
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