Indochine (1992)
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
Cast: Catherine Deneuve, Vincent Perez, Linh Dan Pham
Extras: Theatrical trailers

"Indochine" is the old name of Vietnam that was used in many Western cultures during the time when French colonialists exploited the country and its people for their own riches. Only when the Geneva Convention made sure to give Vietnam its now commonly known name and its independence back, this beautiful country in the southeast of Asia became commonly known as Vietnam. "Indochine" is a colorful movie that tells a great and passionate story of colonial "Indochine" and thanks to Columbia TriStar’s efforts, this masterful French production is now making it to DVD in a breathtakingly beautiful version.

Eliane Devries (Catherine Deneuve) is the owner of a rubber plantation in the French colony of Indochina. Repressed and with many personal problems she lives a prosperous life, while exploiting the local people for her own wealth. Unlike many of her French colleagues however, she seeks the closeness to the local people to an extent, making Eliane a character of many facets. She even adopts an Indochinese daughter when her parents die, and follows many of the local customs and habits – sadly, including the smoking of Opium. Her harsh exterior only serves as a disguise for her own inner torment, her torrid love affairs and lack of acceptance within the French upper class society.

One day her daughter Camille (Linh Dan Pham) falls in love with Eliane’s secret lover, the officer Jean-Baptiste (Vincent Pérez). Helplessly the mother has to watch as the girl falls for the same man who broke her heart before and through her attempted intervention she only drives away the girl. On her own, Camille follows Jean-Baptiste when he is relocated to an isolate spot in Ha Long Bay. Penniless and at the end of her strength she manages to reach the remote place, only to find her friends abused and killed by the French. In agony, she shoots the leading officer, making herself and Jean-Baptiste who helps her, outlaws. For years they flee through the wilderness of the country, constantly seeking refuge from the law enforcement that still tries to ensnare them, until one day, their run comes to an abrupt end.

"Indochine" is a beautifully photographed movie that captures some striking images of the area. Shot partly on location in Vietnam, the movie presents us the stunning beauty of picturesque places like Ha Long Bay. But also the lush rice fields, the mountains shrouded in clouds and the beauty of the rain help to create a tapestry of images that give "Indochine" a very unique atmosphere.

Apart from the beautiful imagery, "Indochine" has a very strong social message however, and the issue of the exploitation of the people of Indochina is omnipresent. Especially when we see workers flee from plantations where they are literally starved to death to find their freedom in Ha Long Bay, only to be betrayed once again by the French who sold them into slavery, it becomes blatantly obvious how violated these people were. Unfortunately the film never really commits to its political statement, displaying the French colonization and aggression towards the Vietnamese as a rather natural thing, while in fact it was a violation of the country. Nonetheless, combined with the dramatic and romantic story of the movie, this film creates some memorable moments of true emotions that will captivate your senses.

Catherine Deneuve is beautifully and sensibly portraying the torn plantation owner. Strong on the outside, yet weak at heart, caring for the Vietnamese, yet violating them, her character has depth and dimensionality. We follow her own torment, as she tries to find a way to bring the good and the bad things of her life to a resolution, never truly succeeding at it.

Columbia TriStar Home Video is presenting "Indochine" in its original, completely uncut version on this DVD, including footage that had never before been released in the US. The disc features a <$16x9,16x9 enhanced> <$PS,widescreen> transfer of the movie in its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio. Although signs of film grain are evident in a handful of scenes, the transfer exhibits a very high level of detail. Sharp and crisp in appearance, the transfer shows some signs of edge-enhancement, but without ever becoming distracting or giving the image an overly sharpened quality. The color reproduction of the movie is phenomenal, bringing out the best of the film’s beautiful and often majestic photography. Colors are strong without over-saturation, nicely restoring all the subtle hues and shades found in the picture. Fleshtones are always absolutely natural looking and the colorful costumes and production designs practically leap off the screen. The shadows are deep but well-defined, maintaining every bit of definition, and the image’s highlights are balanced to give the picture a very pleasing look. There are not the slightest signs of compression artifacts or <$pixelation,pixelation> evident in the movie’s transfer on this DVD.

"Indochine" contains a <$DS,Dolby Surround> audio track in French. Complemented with optional English, French and Spanish subtitles, the choice of a French-only audio tack gives the film more authenticity and relevance and is highly welcome. Given the subject matter is only fitting that the people in the film speak French and Vietnamese only rather than giving them sterile English dubs. It is nice touch that shows once again how considerate Columbia TriStar approaches foreign film titles, and makes you wish some other studios would follow suit. The audio track is well produced and integrated with good spatial integration. There is no noise or distortions audible in the audio track and the dialogues are well integrated, always understandable and remaining on top of the ambient effects – if you understand French that is of course.

The disc only contains a theatrical trailer and some talent biographies as supplements. It would have been nice to have more information and material about the authenticity of the story and its historical roots as part of the release, let away a <$commentary,commentary track> by the writer of director to elaborate more on the social issues that surround the story. Since this is a foreign production, these materials may not have been available to Columbia Tristar Home Video for release however, which makes their lack absolutely excusable.

To a degree, "Indochine" reminded me of Sydney Pollack’s "Out Of Africa." Although the stories themselves are very dissimilar, the characters found within and some of the situations are comparable. The fact that both tell the experiences of colonialists in countries they don’t really belong in, and the fact that both create highly passionate and emotional love stories, makes them somewhat comparable. At the same time it shows how different these films are due to their very different approaches. This DVD from Columbia TriStar makes "Indochine" a magnificent movie experience that will capture you from its first minute to the very last. New let’s hope someone will release "Scent Of The Green Papaya" on DVD some time soon.