A little known fact about me is that between watching Kung-Fu flicks from the 70s and televised wrestling I also love historical romantic epics. OK that’s not actually true, if someone forced me to sit and watch The English Patient the day would end with me roaming the streets and shouting at cars while wearing their skin. So when I got the opportunity to watch the French classic Indochine I didn’t exactly jump at the chance. However by the end of the 3 hour running time my skinning knife was still in it’s drawer and my bloodlust had faded away.
Indochine is an Oscar winning sweeping romance/family drama set during the French colonisation of Vietnam (I’m sure that’ll all end well). Catherine Deneuve plays Eliane a rich French lady who owns a rubber plantation in what was then known as Indo-China. Eliane has an adopted Vietnamese daughter named Camille (a fantastic debut from Linh Dan Pham) and they both live the sweet life near 1930s Saigon. That’s until a handsome young Navy officer (played by a pre-terrible Crow sequel Vincent Perez) comes into their lives and everything goes to merde. A steamy affair, political upheaval, and lots of French introspection and declarations of love follow in what is a wonderfully multi-layered film that never slaps you in the face with allegory or subtext.
While the story and characters are great, the true star of Indochine is the country of Vietnam. Director Regis Wargnier captures some absolutely stunning shots of this beautiful country. A scene with lines of rubber farmers working at dusk with their oil lamp helmets the only light is haunting yet gorgeous. There are alluring vistas of Ho Lang Bay that are truly breathtaking. It’s this attention to aesthetic and period detail that grabs you and sucks you into the melodrama. This is made even more lovely on a 4K display as the restoration is excellent. Combine this with wonderful performances from Deneuve and Perez and you have a quality product.
Indochine won’t be a movie for everyone, it’s pretty long, and unashamedly French but it has so much in it from romance, to explorations of family, country, and colonisation. It weaves these ideas together in an organic way that slowly becomes more engrossing as the film goes on. I’ll admit, I was totally caught off guard by how much I enjoyed Indochine. My fear was of a horrendous period romance in the vein of Captain Corelli’s Big Fat Wedding or whatever that abomination was called but I let myself become wrapped up in the story. Give Indochine a watch if you want to escape to a different time and place and see great French actors perform. You might even learn something about rubber farming while you’re at it. Don’t say you don’t learn anything on Screenkicker. Au revoir!
Have you seen Indochine? Have you ever been to Vietnam? Are you into rubber? Let me know in the comments below.
Indochine is available now on DVD and Blu-Ray and includes a brand new 52 minute documentary about the film, the historical context as well as interviews from Deneuve, Wargnier, Erik Orsenna, Louis Gardel, Vincent Pérez, Michel Bodin, Alain Ruscio, François Catonné, Alain Belmondo Gérard Crosnier and Jacques Bufnoir.