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Film / Indochine

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Indochine is a 1992 film from France, directed by Regis Wargnier, starring Catherine Deneuve.

It spans the years 1930-1954 and the end of French colonial rule in French Indochina, the country that would eventually become Vietnam, but most of the story takes place from 1930 to 1936. Eliane Devries (Deneuve) is a French colonialist, born and raised in Indochina, manager of and heir to her father's vast rubber plantation. Eliane is unmarried, but she is the loving adoptive mother of Camille, a Vietnamese princess orphaned after her parents are killed in a plane crash.

Eliane is not the cruelest of colonial masters but she isn't the kindest either, calling her workers "coolies" and whipping one who attempted to run away. She also has an opium habit, and fills her private time with casual sex with a variety of lovers. One of those lovers is Jean-Baptiste (Vincent Perez), a handsome young Navy lieutenant. They embark on a passionate affair that is rather more serious than Eliane's usual flings.

Eventually Eliane and Jean-Baptiste part. One day an incident involving the shooting of a runaway prisoner winds up introducing teenaged Camille to Jean-Baptiste. They become lovers in turn, much to Eliane's displeasure and social embarrassment. Eliane arranges for Jean-Baptiste to be sent away to a remote harbor post with a strong Heart of Darkness vibe to it. Camille then abandons her mother and goes off on a quest to find Jean-Baptiste. Tragedy ensues.

Not related to the music band of the same name.


  • Ambiguous Situation: Does Jean-Baptiste commit suicide? Is he killed by the police or the army? Or does he expose the communists who kill him in retaliation?
  • Arranged Marriage: Between Camille and Thanh.
  • Auction: Eliane meets Jean-Baptiste during an artwork auction. He begs her not to bid higher because he loves the painting but cannot afford to bid for it any more. She bids higher.
  • Auto Erotica: Eliane has her chauffeur get out of the car—and into the pouring rain—to facilitate sex with Jean-Baptiste, but then she changes her mind.
  • Book Ends: There is a rowing competition in the beginning of the movie. In the epilogue, Eliane sees a row boat on Lake Geneva.
  • Break the Cutie: Camille, an innocent, beautiful, young Vietnamese girl, is separated from her first lover. She decides to join him. On the way, she learns how hard the colonial rule is and she is even driven to kill a French soldier. So she has to run away and soon she is definitively separated from her lover and newborn child. Later, she is arrested and sent to a Hellhole Prison.
  • Character Development: Jean-Baptiste. Initially, he has no qualms about setting fire to an sampan smuggling opium with a father and son aboard under pretense of following orders. As the film goes on, he develops a contempt for the French Navy.
  • Character Narrator: An older-but-wiser Eliane narrating her own story.
  • Chummy Commies: Communists are depicted as people fighting an unjust colonial rule.
  • Les Collaborateurs:
    • Even traditional authority figures who collaborates with the French occupying forces are seen as such, such as the Vietnamese Mandarins. One of them is burnt alive by the resistance without protest.
    • The Vietnamese who work for Guy in the police count too.
  • Coming of Age Story: Camille is an idealist teenager when she falls in love with Jean-Baptiste. She becomes an hardened member of the resistance.
  • The Cutie: Camille due her youthfulness and naivete.
  • Defrosting Ice Queen: Eliane is a cold woman who has sex with different men, but is not attached to them. She starts a relationship with Jean-Baptiste and finally she falls deeply in love with him. She tells him that she needs him, but it was just a fling for him. So Eliane returns to her cold demeanor.
  • Determinator: Camille wants to join her lover Jean-Baptiste, even if it means leaving a life of privilege and going through Vietnam on foot in harsh conditions.
  • Distant Epilogue: The main plot ends when Etienne is 5 years old (at that time the Popular Front was in power, so it was between 1936 and 1938). In the epilogue, in 1954, he is a young adult.
  • Disposable Fiancé: Jean-Baptiste dumps Eliane early in the film (she was only a fling for him). He really ends up with Camille.
  • Don't Split Us Up: The Vietnamese family that made it to the port with Camille is split up by the slavers. They protest. They are all executed.
  • Driven to Suicide: Zig zagged. At least, that looks like what Jean-Baptiste did. Eliane doesn't believe it but she can't get anyone to investigate the navy's story.
  • Eiffel Tower Effect: Hạ Long Bay effect in the case of Vietnam.
  • End of an Age: The end of colonial Indochina, specifically in Vietnam.
  • Epic Movie: Unusual not only for the time it was released but also that it was a Classic Hollywood style one from France.
  • Evil Colonialist: None of them come off well, but the ones trapping Vietnamese peasants into slavery are the worst.
  • Foregone Conclusion: The viewer should know that French Indochina will not last much longer.
  • Foreshadowing:
    • At the beginning of the auction scene, a painting of Joan d'Arc is sold. Later on, Camille is celebrated as a Vietnamese Joan d'Arc by the anti-Imperialists for her actions.
    • Jean-Baptiste's deeply cynical commanding officer looks out at all the Vietnamese peasants placidly waiting to be taken into indentured servitude, and muses, "One day they'll rise all at once, and then we'll have to leave."
    • An actor warns Jean-Baptiste that it is dangerous for him to get out of the cart because he could get caught. Later, Jean-Baptiste goes away from the carts and he is arrested.
  • Framing Device: About 3/4 of the way through it's revealed that the person Eliane is telling her story to is Etienne, Jean-Baptiste and Camille's son.
  • Halfway Plot Switch: Begins with Eliane recounting her memories as a plantation owner before focusing on Camille and Jean-Baptiste a third of the way through.
  • Hand Gagging: Corinne and Jean-Baptiste's guide has to do this to her to stop her from screaming as the two of them, on a hilltop, watch Jean-Baptiste and the baby taken away by soldiers.
  • Hellhole Prison: Camille is sent to Poulo Condor, a prison where no visitor is allowed and many prisoners die.
  • Holiday in Cambodia: Downplayed. Guerilla warfare, Asian prostitutes and drugs are all present but they hardly much importance and are depicted in a way less commonly seen with the trope.
  • How We Got Here: What the film really is after it is revealed that Eliane is recounting the story of his parents back to her grandson, now an adult in the present day.
  • Interrupted Intimacy: Eliane enters Guy's bedroom when he is with Yvette.
  • Irony: Situational irony. Eliane has Jean-Baptiste reassigned far away to protect Camille. This triggers a chain of events that will put Camille in a far greater danger than an unhappy love affair.
  • I Want My Beloved to Be Happy: Prior to meeting Jean-Baptiste, Camille was in a relationship with Thanh. Thanh, newly aware of the value of freedom, agrees to aid her in her pursuit of Jean-Baptiste by marrying her so that they can be free of their arranged marriage contract and then letting her go. Downplayed because Thanh was not in love with Camille: their relationship was arranged by their families.
  • Just Following Orders: "I followed the rules," says Jean-Baptiste after he has a sampan out in the harbor after curfew set on fire, but he is still deeply rattled by the incident.
  • Living Legend:
    • Camille, and to some extant Jean-Baptiste, become living legends. There are even clandestine theatre plays about her deeds.
    • Their son, Etienne, also becomes one after Jean-Baptiste is captured. He becomes the baby who was fed by women throughout all of northern Vietnam.
  • Love at First Sight: Camille falls deeply in love with Jean-Baptiste just as she sees him.
  • Meet Cute:
    • Jean-Baptiste and Eliane meet at an auction where she outbids him for a painting.
    • But also for Eliane's daughter, Camille, and Jean-Baptiste. She falls in love with him because she believes he saved her life.
  • Mighty Whitey and Mellow Yellow: The star-crossed romance between a Vietnamese girl and a French sailor. Subverted, because, in spite of her young age and privileged upbringing, Camille is not submissive at all. She even becomes a hardened resistance hero. In contrast, her white lover is quite weak and passively undergoes the events of the film.
  • A Minor Kidroduction: A couple of brief scenes of five-year-old Camille before the story proper starts with her in her teens.
  • Mrs. Robinson: Eliane certainly seems to enjoy her affair with a much younger man.
  • Opium Den: Eliane goes to one from time to time to feed her habit. Once she takes Jean-Baptiste to one.
  • Parental Abandonment:
    • Camille's background: her parents died when she was a kid.
    • Etienne's mother is separated from him when he is a baby and his father dies shortly after.
  • Parental Substitute: Eliane for both Camille and Etienne.
  • Pretty Little Headshots:
    • Eliane and her father have been invited to a religious ceremony. The ceremony is abruptly ended when the holy man in charge receives a neat little bullet wound in the middle of his forehead, courtesy of a Vietnamese guerilla.
    • Camille towards Jean-Baptiste's officer.
    • Jean-Baptiste's suicide or murder is also depicted that way.
  • Reassigned to Antarctica: Eliane has Jean-Baptiste reassigned to an isolated harbor that just happens to be a center of colonial slave-trading.
  • Rebel Leader: Thanh becomes a high ranking member of the Communist resistance some time after he leaves his mother.
  • Rescue Romance: Zig zagged. An escaped prisoner is shot dead next to Camille and his corpse falls on her. She loses consciousness and the blood of the prisoner soils her clothes, so Jean-Baptiste thinks she was hit by the bullet and takes care of her. Camille thinks Jean-Baptiste saved her and falls in love with him. Jean-Baptiste says that he did nothing.
  • La Résistance: The Vietnamese who fight against the French colonial rule. In particular, the travelling theatre troupe that aid Camille and Jean-Baptiste.
  • Riches to Rags: Camille is the daughter of rich plantation owners and she is adopted by another plantation owner, so she has a high-class lifestyle. She decides to leave everything to join her lover. So she goes through Vietnam on foot in harsh conditions. She even does not have enough food.
  • Runaway Bride: Inverted. Camille runs away after the wedding ceremony with the help of her groom, Thanh.
  • Run for the Border: Jean-Baptiste and Camille are within sight of the mountains of China when Jean-Baptiste is caught.
  • Screw the Rules, I Have Connections!: Eliane uses her influence to get Jean-Baptiste reassigned in the North. Later, she tries to use her influence to protect Camille and Jean-Baptiste, but it does not work.
  • Slave Market: A French officer is assigned to a remote place where once per month, starving Vietnamese gather to be "bought" by French plantation owners. It is not officially a slave market, since slavery was banned at the time, but it looks like one, with the buyers weighing the candidates, examining their teeth and shutting them up in enclosures.
  • Star-Crossed Lovers: Jean-Baptiste and Camille. First Jean-Baptiste is reassigned in Northern Vietnam. Camille joins him there, but soon Jean-Baptiste is arrested. Later, Jean-Baptiste dies under mysterious but tragic circumstances.
  • Sleeps with Everyone but You: Eliane confesses this out to Guy because she finds him too much of a passive coward.
  • State Sec: Guy, who is chief of the French secret police. He's accustomed to torturing prisoners for information.
  • Too Important to Walk: A French colonial railroad foreman is seen being carried around on a litter.
  • Torches and Pitchforks: Torch-wielding mobs scream "Death to the land thieves!" as the revolution gathers steam.
  • Tragedy: As is typical for Epic style films.
  • Tragic Hero:
    • Eliane dreams to live in Indochina with her adoptive daughter who she loves and to pass her the plantation, but she is too authoritarian and too cold to express her feelings. So she decides to separate Camille from her lover, because she thinks he is dangerous for her. Camille leaves her to join him.
    • Camille dreams to find a true love and to live in peace, but she is too stubborn and impulsive. So when Eliane separates her from Jean-Baptiste, she decides to leave the plantation to join him. When she sees that some of her fellow countrymen were killed, she impulsively kills a French officer.
  • You Can't Go Home Again:
    • Camille refuses to go home with Eliane when she gets out of jail, telling her mother that she had to rid herself of emotional ties to survive in prison.
    • She also warns Eliane that the Indochina she once loved will be no more soon and that she should return to France with Etienne. She does as such and sells her land before returning to France.