Indochine is sumptuous, sweeping, grandiose and epic, coming across like a big budget Jackie Collins novel within the first half hour before slowly embroiling us in political concerns, resurgent Communism and the faltering grip French occupation.
Taking in family drama, political shifts and the French occupation of Indochina over a twenty year period between the 1930s and mid-1950s, Indochine is sumptuous, sweeping, grandiose and epic in all the ways you imagine. Mounted on a scale which recalls the heyday of Bertolucci’s Last Emperor or Attenborough’s Gandhi, this is a love story stretched across decades, etched into history and memorable for its time as well as place.
There are shades of Pollack’s Out of Africa and Lean’s A Passage To India in the evocation and sense of period, as well as minute attention to detail in terms of recreating rubber plantations, military occupation and the sense of claustrophobia which pervades the locations themselves. Deneuve, Perez and Linh Dan Pham as the adoptive daughter are riveting throughout, playing subtlety against open vistas, vast backdrops and never being overwhelmed by the visual spectacle Regis Wargnier depicts.
Coming across like a big budget Jackie Collins novel within the first half hour before slowly embroiling us in political concerns, resurgent Communism and the faltering grip France begins to have on those parts of South East Asia it occupies, Indochine expands from the surface downwards providing the viewer with more and more detail, until you feel this place to be real, these people to have lived and ultimately for the film itself to engage you emotionally. If at times scenes seem bloated or overly long that is because they are. As is sometimes the case with historically accurate Oscar fare things can air on the side of melodrama, making emotions feel over wrought which in turn tends to distract.
Similarly some of the locations are often so breathtaking that you find yourself admiring the view rather than paying attention to dialogue, which in a film of this complexity can be fatal. But that aside the extensive use of voice over and internal monologue primarily used by Deneuve’s character Elaine, is both essential to smoothly segue between years and underline visuals. Vincent Perez meanwhile who featured in La Reine Margot and Crow: City of Angels, displays range, emotion and leading man chops enough to hold the screen alongside her.
Be warned though, Indochine is no easy Sunday afternoon matinee affair, it requires emotional investment, patience and ideally no interruptions. This is no film you dip in and out of without losing something fundamental to the experience. There is little doubt that in parts it feels overly long and there is a sense of meandering narrative. But to be honest performances are universally excellent, its cinematography reaches the levels of Conrad Hall, and the film itself remains more deserving of Academy recognition than some films half its age.
Written by Martin Carr
Directed by: Régis Wargnier
Written by: Érik Orsenna, Louis Gardel, Catherine Cohen, Régis Wargnier
Starring: Catherine Deneuve, Vincent Pérez, Linh Dan Pham, Jean Yanne, Dominique Blanc
Released: 1992 / Genre: Drama
Country: France / IMDB
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Top 10 Films reviewed Indochine on DVD courtesy of Studiocanal. The film was released on DVD & Blu-ray on Jan 2, 2017.