Directed by: Regis Wargnier
Starring: Catherine Deneuve, Vincent Perez, Linh Dan Pham, Jean Yanne, Dominique Blanc
Catherine Deneuve is luminous as always in Indochine (1992), a film that picked up the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film in 1993, and has the inherent sadness of all films set at the end of an era. (Regardless of how you feel about the era in question, there's an inescapable melancholy that clings to such stories.) That said, it's impossible not to note that this epic French film is a little too leisurely paced for its own good, and that while it sets its sights on some lofty goals, it ultimately treats the last days of French Indochina in much the same manner that Gone with the Wind (1939) treats the Civil War -- as a backdrop for a romanticized tale.
There's no denying that the film has merit -- though one might rightly question the central unapologetic attitude on French colonialism -- and it's every inch a handsome production. But it's also a strangely detached film where it's difficult to determine whether Deneuve is playing a real person or if she's merely the embodiment of France. The problem is that for all its romanticism (something amusingly undercut by one of the Vietnamese characters, who says she can never understand French love stories), the film tends to treat its characters more as symbols than people. Moreover, while it might be artistically daring to provide something other than a nicely packaged big ending, the vague and uninvolved one the film gives us is simply not satisfying as drama. It's certainly worth a look if only for Deneuve and its striking visuals, but whether it was worth an Oscar is another matter.
-- reviewed by Ken Hanke