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The Lover (or L'Amant) is a 1992 French film based on the novel of the same name by Marguerite Duras. Set in French Indo-China in 1929, it depicts the illicit affair between a fifteen-year old French girl (Jane March) and her wealthy Chinese lover (Tony Leung Ka-fai), narrated by Jeanne Moreau (in both French and English).


The film and novel contain the following tropes:

  • Aren't You Going to Ravish Me?: The Chinaman takes the Girl to a love nest in the Chinese quarter that he keeps for his mistresses, but is reluctant to actually go through with the act until she insists.
  • Arranged Marriage: The Chinaman has a long-arranged marriage to a girl from another wealthy Chinese family.
  • Based on a True Story: Duras has stated that she is the Young Girl, and the affair has been depicted in different (sometimes opposing) ways in her novels.
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  • Blatant Lies: The Girl claims there's nothing going on with the Chinaman, "not even a kiss", when she's wearing his expensive diamond ring.
  • Break His Heart to Save Him: The Chinaman tries to do this to himself, making the Girl say that she was only ever sleeping with him for money, from the moment they first met. Given that The Girl doesn't want to admit any romantic attraction herself, she plays along willingly.
  • The Casanova: The Girl is actually turned on by the idea that the Chinaman has had many previous lovers, and regards it as his occupation.
  • Cynicism Catalyst: Paolo (the younger brother) dies of alcohol poisoning, which makes The Girl realize her mother and older brother are completely irredeemable and gives her a more cynical outlook on life.
  • Disappeared Dad: He died when the family had just moved to Vietnam.
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  • Dissonant Serenity: As the ship departs for France, the Girl sees the black limousine parked on the docks with her lover motionless inside. She in turn stands with one foot on the ship's railing in imitation of when they first met, not moving or showing any emotion, just looking in his direction until his car is no longer in sight.
  • Dysfunctional Family: The Girl's mother is a manic depressive, a poor land investment has destroyed their savings, and the elder brother bullies his younger siblings and steals from his family to feed his gambling and opium habits. It's clear that the Girl prostituting herself is as much an escape, as a means of solving their financial difficulties.
  • Elephant in the Living Room: No-one outside their families confront them about the scandal, and everyone takes it for granted that she's sleeping with the Chinaman for money, as the idea that two people of different races would fall in love is unthinkable.
  • Ephebophile: The Girl claims to be seventeen, but she's actually fifteen years old. The Chinaman is 27 (32 in the film).
  • Explicit Content: The movie is quite renowned for its barely censored sex scenes and generous amounts of nudity and overall eroticism.
  • Fille Fatale: It's the girl who is the sexual aggressor.
  • Heirloom Engagement Ring: The Chinaman gives the Girl his mother's ring, presumably a family heirloom meant to be passed onto the women he's been arranged to marry, and he's shown placing it on her ring finger just like you would with your betrothed. Naturally the Girl's mother and elder brother refuse to believe the Chinaman would give her an expensive diamond ring if he wasn't getting something in return, despite her fervent denials.
  • Homoerotic Subtext: The Girl in the novel speaks explicitly of wanting to make love to Helene. In the film they lie in bed together while talking about the affair, and when Helene fantasizes about sleeping with men for money, the Girl caresses her body and talks about how lucky those men would be.
  • Idle Rich: The Chinaman admits that he's never been good at studying or business.
  • Incest Subtext: The elder brother has a predatory interest in his sister, while the sight of the Girl dancing intimately with her young brother drives the Chinaman to jealousy.
  • Innocent Fanservice Girl: Helene walks around the school dormitory naked.
  • It Doesn't Mean Anything: The Girl repeatedly tells the Chinaman that she's not in love with him. It's only when she's on the ship back to France that she's forced to acknowledge her feelings.
  • Longing Look: A constant motif throughout the movie.
  • Love at First Sight: The Chinaman falls for the Girl from the moment he sees her standing by the railing of a cross-river ferry.
  • Love Hurts: In the end, the Girl and the Chinaman have to come to terms with the idea that they can't be together.
  • Mighty Whitey and Mellow Yellow: The very rare gender-inverted version where a White girl is being charmed by a high-class Asian man.
  • Millionaire Playboy: Subverted; the Chinaman is a handsome and wealthy hedonist, but is physically weak and lacking in self-confidence.
  • Mommy Issues: Well, obviously. The Mother is abusive and completely out of touch with reality.
  • Mood Dissonance: While his family has a screaming match over the Girl's affair in the next room, the younger brother is playing a piano trying to drown them out.
  • No Name Given: The protagonists are only referred to as The Young Girl and The Chinaman. In fact, almost no one has their name stated save for Helene Lagonelle and Anne-Marie Stretter, both relatively minor characters. The younger brother's name is Paolo, but this is a case of All in the Manual from Marguerite Duras's books.
  • Opium Den: The Chinaman tries to dull his pain with opium when the time comes for the Girl to return to France.
  • One True Love: At the end of the movie, The Narrator tells how she got a phone call from the Chinaman after she became a writer later in life, saying that he has never stopped loving her.
  • The Patriarch: The Chinaman begs his father to delay his Arranged Marriage a year so he can experience this One True Love. His father replies that he'd rather see his son dead than involved with a white girl.
  • Rape as Drama: The Chinaman takes the Girl's family out to dinner where they respond by alternately ignoring and humiliating him. Along with jealousy caused by the Girl dancing with her younger brother, this leads the Chinaman to rape her on their return to their love nest. The Girl responds by demanding money as if they were in a brothel.
  • Smoking Hot Sex
  • Stalking Is Love: The Chinaman waits outside her school every day, while the girl turns up at his Arranged Marriage. As the Girl departs on the ship to France, she sees his limousine parked on the docks.
  • Star-Crossed Lovers: Both protagonists acknowledge from the beginning that there's no future in the affair.
  • The Un-Favourite: Both Paolo and The Girl to their mother. She neglects them harshly.
  • Third-Person Person: Duras in the novel switches back and forth between first and third person. The Narrator in the film.
  • The Alcoholic: The older brother in the novel. The younger brother after their move to Paris - he dies of alcohol poisoning.
  • Unable to Cry: The Girl is leaving on the ship for France when she sees the limousine parked on the wharf, with the Chinaman in the back watching her.
    It was when the boat uttered its first farewell, and the gangway had been hauled up, that she had wept. She'd done it without showing her tears, without showing her mother, or her little brother, that she was sad. Without showing anything, as was the custom between them.
  • Unproblematic Prostitution: The Girl is excited by the idea of sex without emotional attachment. Despite her disapproval her mother clears the way by insisting that her boarding school not enforce her curfew. The school goes along because they need a few white girls to enhance their status, and so can't afford to expel her.
  • Unresolved Sexual Tension: In the car trip from the ferry to Saigon the Girl and the Chinaman go from touching fingers to Holding Hands to Intertwined Fingers — by the time they get to their destination they're covered in sweat and his hand has reached her upper thigh.
  • Uptown Girl: Applies to both parties — The Girl being white sets her above the Chinaman racially, while her impoverished status sets her below him socially.
  • Window Love: The day after their first meeting the Girl is surprised to see the Chinaman's black limousine outside the school. She walks up to the car and sensuously presses her lips to the window where he's sitting in the back seat.
  • You Must Be Cold: The Chinaman wraps his jacket around the Girl's shoulders as she shows him the property her family invested in, now inundated by the sea.

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