Although French filmmakers eschew didacticism, this 1992 motion picture does teach a lesson: that enlightenment comes through suffering. In this context, the film is a kind of Asian Romeo and Juliet in which two lovers are caught between warring families: the French imperialists and the native Indochinese. Like the Shakespeare play, the film has a Romeo (French naval officer Jean-Baptiste Le Guen, portrayed by Vincent Perez) and a Juliet (an orphaned Indochinese girl, Camille Devries, portrayed by Lin Dan Phan), as well as other parallel characters. And like the Shakespeare play, the film presents images of light and darkness: lanterns burning in pre-dawn gloom, milky latex oozing from rubber trees, refugees silhouetted against a bright sky, white European skin and dark Asian skin. Unfortunately, the film does not have Shakespeare. Consequently, the plot and the dialogue -- in violation of the Bard's maxim "Brevity is the soul of wit" -- ramble on like a Sunday sermon. Catherine Deneuve anchors the film as the owner of a rubber plantation who adopts and rears Camille and has a brief affair with Jean-Baptiste before he falls in love with Camille and runs away with her. Deneuve is her usual sophisticated self -- elegant, self-possessed, full of savoir-faire -- and Lin Dan Phan is exquisite as Camille, exhibiting sensitivity and innocence. But Vincent Perez acts his character with too much angst. The film ends eventually, but not quite like the Shakespeare play. Somehow, the film won a Golden Globe and an Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film.
by Mike Cummings review