Indochine (1992)



Director:     Regis Wargnier.

Starring:      Catherine Deneuve (Eliane), Vincent Perez (Jean-Baptiste), Linh Dan Pham (Camille), Jean Yanne (Guy), Dominique Blanc (Yvette), Henri Marteau (Emile), Carlo Brandt (Castellani), Gérard Lartigau (L'Admiral), Hubert Saint-Macary (Raymond), Andrzej Seweryn (Hebrard), Mai Chau (Shen), Alain Fromager (Dominique), Chu Hung (Mari de Sao), Jean-Baptiste Huynh (Étienne, adulte), Thibault de Montalembert (Charles-Henri).

Country:      French.


French colonialism represented by Catherine Deneuve playing the role of a wealthy French landowner in French Indochina during the 1930s. Deneuve raises an Indochinese girl who raises some interesting questions when she comes of age.


This is a very good movie, but a bit of a tear-jerker.  Along with her father, Deneuve runs a rubber plantation.. The plantation uses hundreds of "coolies" to keep the enterprise afloat.   Deneuve is not a happy camper and it shows in her face.  She is single with no children.  But with the death of her best friend and her husband, a Vietnamese couple, her life changes when she adopts their orphaned daughter. 

Trouble starts, however, when Deneuve begins a relationship with Jean-Baptiste, a much younger man and a lieutenant in the French Navy.  Things start getting complicated when her adopted daughter falls in love with the lieutenant.  To prevent further complications, Deneuve has the lieutenant sent to the worst military post in Vietnam, the very isolated Dragon Island.  Dragon Island is used as a dispersing area for Vietnamese "volunteers" who are divided between various job bosses to work at various places in Vietnam. 

But the isolation of the lieutenant just leads to bigger problems.  For the daughter will not stay away from the lieutenant, but decides to travel on foot through dangerous territory with increasing battles between the French and the growing communist movement.  And then matters really worsen in a violent confrontation between the daughter and the French lieutenant on the one side and the corrupt work bosses and French naval officers on the other.  Soon the young couple are on the run. 

Meanwhile, Deneuve is desperately trying to find her daughter.  In an increasingly war-torn Vietnam, is it going to be possible for there to be a happy ending for the couple and for the mother? 

The movie illustrates the fact that in situations where a small group controls and misuses a larger group, such as in all examples of imperialism, both sides in the divided society suffer in the short and the long run.  Deneuve, her daughter and the French lieutenant are torn between the divisions within the larger society between French and Vietnamese.  The threat of danger increases as the movie proceeds, keeping the suspense up throughout, which makes for a good movie.

The only sour note in the movie for me was the written statement at the end saying that after the fall of the French army at Dien Bien-Phu in northern Vietnam, a treaty was signed declaring two distinct nations in Vietnam.  It was this pretext that eventually served as the justification for the entry of the United States into what became the Vietnam War.  The United States would lose over 58,000 dead in that war and kill somewhere between two and three million Vietnamese.  And, eventually, the United States, under President Nixon, had to just walk away from the South Vietnamese government and let it fall to the communists. 


Historical Background:


See The Lover (1992). 

1954  -- French defeat at the Battle of Dien Bien-Phu leads to French exit from Indochina and America's entry into what becomes the nation's national  nightmare, the Vietnam War.


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