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Old-fashioned storytelling on an epic scale
on 5 December 2007
In its day a casualty of the chaos and confusion surrounding the frequently ridiculous entry qualifications for the Best Foreign Film Oscar - many superior films were ruled ineligible and those it was competing against were scarcely representative of the world's best - Indochine may not be great art, but it is an enjoyable example of the kind of old-fashioned good storytelling that Hollywood rarely produces anymore.
Set against the last days of the French occupation of what was to later become Vietnam, it uses the relationship between Catherine Deneuve's French plantation owner and her adopted Vietnamese daughter (Linh Dan Pham) as a mirror for the relationship between France and Vietnam. Like the American South, for the privileged few, the French IndoChina is a fairy tale land built on the exploitation of others, which they excuse as 'paternalism.' But the idyll comes crashing down when the daughter runs away from home in search of her lover (Vincent Perez), who had previously had an affair with Deneuve, with tragic consequences.
The film moves between glossy soap opera, political drama and epic romance quite effectively, with strong performances and occasionally striking direction from Regis Wargnier and scoring from Patrick Doyle. Francois Catonne's photography is often disappointing, however, over-fond of the caramel tints that have become something of an unattractive visual cliché for period drama with pretensions to the socio-political, at least until the second act where the film really gets into its stride. Heralded by a sinister procession of sampans making their torch lit way through the night, the scenes on Dragon Island are film-making of a very high order bringing the political, emotional and narrative to the fore in a seamless whole.
Not a great film by any means, but a well-balanced, entertaining and more intelligent one than its detractors give it credit for. No extras on the UK DVD, but a good widescreen transfer.