Thought of the Day

I don't believe in morality, but I believe in ethical conduct as set out by His Holiness the Dalai Lama: "Ethical conduct = a way of behaving that respects others’ right to be happy".

Saturday, 22 October 2005


Director: Régis Wargnier
Plot Summary: Indochina during the 30's. One of the largest rubber-tree plantations is owned by the French colonist Eliane, a proud but imprudent woman. She lives with her father and her native adoptive daughter Camille. At an auction Eliane gets to know the young officer Jean-Baptiste; after a short affair she refuses to see him again. But in the meantime Camille falls deeply in love with the young man, so Eliane takes the necessary steps to cause a transposition of Jean-Baptiste onto a far island. Though Camille gets married to another guy she goes on a long journey throughout the country in order to find the man she loves.

Awards: Won Oscar. Another 9 wins & 10 nominations


This mythical story, set in a crucial historical moment for the country which will become Vietnam, centres on Eliane, a French woman, born and grown up in Indochina

The exotic sceneries of the far-east, immortalised by a seducing photography, and the epic story behind the personal drama contribute to the lure, but I believe that the film sources all its strength and fascination by Catherine Denueve's role and interpretation. The charm of a mature, caring and strong headed woman is delivered in the most natural way, without too much effort. Her iconic beauty (pointed small nose, thin mouth, rounded eyes, slender elegant figure) is enhanced by her role of emancipated, apparently independent, (single) mother of an adoptive Indo-chinese girl, Camille. Eliane looks perfectly integrated in, and shows a solid attachment to, her native place. She is caring and friendly with the locals and embraces their culture and traditions, but also accepts to step aside when she is not allowed to participate. In this sense, she is still an outsider: she can't attend the traditional religious celebrations and distinguishes herself by wearing European clothes: flamboyant 30's style dresses and trousers. As a colonist and employer, she shows a business determination which shares with her father: every morning at dawn she personally goes to the fields to supervise the works; and, as a west woman, she enjoys privileges banned to the east women: she can step into dives and smoke opium with men.

A halo of mystery about her personal past rotates around her complex figure. Nothing is revealed about her mother or past lovers. Neither her daughter knows much about her past. However, the two women seem to have a strong bond based on expressed love and complicity. I was particularly flattered to see them dancing together in such a corporeal and fond way, but you couldn’t miss to notice their diversity in appearance and personality, mirror of an ambivalent rapport. Camille is the romantic and idealist adolescent, sweet and gracefully beautiful. Although her temperament will evolve through the film, and she will become a re-born woman at the end of it, she still lacks the sophistication of her mother’s nature. The duality of Eliane's persona emerges also in the conflicting relationship with her controlling father and the young Jean Baptist.

While she doesn’t approve her daughter's choice of running away in search of her lover, she empathises with Camille’s resolution, aware that her over-protective attitude was detrimental and partly provoked the young lady’s escape from her mother, her conservative traditions and her social status--privileged but at the same time endangered by the unstable political situation of the time. The irony is that the man Camille is going after is the same man who seduced her mother not long before, and with whom she had a short intense affair before deciding to discontinue it. Eliane starts mourning her loss. She becomes the sympathetic narrator of Camille’s adventure; you can feel that she is with her, sharing those emotions she has always suppressed. And Camille's story, retrospectively filtered by Eliane's tale, becomes *legend*. 

I did not really like Vincent Perez' interpretation. And I did not like his part of a troubled soul either. Maybe because it was overshadowed by the grandesse of Deneuve's acting. But this is a detail of a praiseworthy film.

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