UK Release Date: 2nd January 2017
Runtime: 152 minutes
Director: Régis Wargnier
Writer: Régis Wargnier, Érik Orsenna, Louis Gardel, Catherine Cohen
Starring: Catherine Deneuve, Linh Đan Phạm, Vincent Pérez, Jean Yanne, Henri Marteau, Carlo Brandt, Dominique Blanc
Synopsis: A plantation owner looking after a young Vietnamese girl as her own daughter finds her controlled life thrown into turmoil when a naval officer arrives against a backdrop of political upheaval.
The sweeping French epic Indochine scooped the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film in 1993, beating out competitors from the likes of Belgium and Germany. It’s a sprawling tale of romance, murder and a surprisingly potent dose of politics that benefits from strong performances, sumptuous direction and a plot that hides twists, turns and revelations behind every corner. In its new restoration, the film looks absolutely beautiful and remains a breath-taking journey through a turbulent period of history, brought to life by a very human story.
Éliane Devries (Catherine Deneuve) is a plantation owner born and living in French Indochina. She adopts the child of some of her friends, Camille (Linh Dan Pham), after their deaths in a plane crash and raises her to her teenage years. Éliane embarks on an affair with naval officer Jean Baptiste (Vincent Pérez), who subsequently begins to show an interest in Camille. When Jean Baptiste is moved away to a remote part of Indochina, this sets off a dramatic chain of events that tears apart the quiet equilibrium of Éliane’s life as the rumblings of political change begin to simmer in the background.
Indochine is an absolutely stunning movie, directed with real ambition and vision by Régis Wargnier, who channels the great epic directors to produce striking landscapes that seem to burn out of the screen. Wargnier’s camera is at home sweeping across wide vistas, but also knows exactly where to point in order to make the most of star Catherine Deneuve’s extraordinarily expressive face. This is a movie that’s just as comfortable with people talking in rooms as it is with depicting the spectacle that’s necessary to tell its sprawling story that marries the political with the personal from start to finish.
The film starts as a fairly fusty drama of people chattering in rooms, but deepens its characters as the story moves on and peppers the story with frequent explosions of violence. Kept rare and unshowy, these splashes of brutality are incredibly powerful and really allow the simmering tale of political upheaval to bubble over to the surface in time for the film’s third act, which spans time and geography with really thrilling revelations that are genuinely tough to predict. These surprises are brought to life through stellar performances from Linh Dan Pham and Vincent Pérez, who take a potentially unbelievable relationship and turn it into something that you genuinely want to see succeed.
It’s certainly true that Indochine tends towards melodrama and, at over two and a half hours long, it’s certainly reaching for the label of being an epic. However, the strength of the story shines through and ensures that there’s always something to keep the momentum of the film moving forward. The story never drags, anchored by Deneuve whose performance here is commanding and packed with real authority, in opposition to the fragile and fractured character she portrayed in the wonderful horror film Repulsion. With her for the narrative to picot and turn around, this is a film that earns the word epic, even though it arguably tries far too hard to get there.
There’s a whole separate disc featuring an hour-long documentary on the making of the film.
Pop or Poop?
A majestic central performance from the wonderful Catherine Deneuve anchors Indochine, which is a beautiful period epic directed with a real sense of spectacle by Régis Wargnier. It wanders occasionally into melodrama, but balances that out with elegant dialogue and unexpected explosions of genuinely shocking violence.
The political subtext works nicely and supplements the romantic drama to create a film that is genuinely special.
Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.
Indochine will be available on DVD and Blu-ray from 2nd January 2017 courtesy of Studiocanal.