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  Lover, The I Like Chinese
Year: 1992
Director: Jean-Jacques Annaud
Stars: Jane March, Tony Leung, Frédérique Meininger, Arnaud Giovaninetti, Melvil Poupaud, Lisa Faulkner, Xiem Mang, Philippe Le Dem, Ann Schaufuss, Jeanne Moreau
Genre: Sex, Romance, HistoricalBuy from Amazon
Rating:  5 (from 2 votes)
Review: A teenage schoolgirl (Jane March) in nineteen-twenties French Colonial Vietnam lives with her now-impoverished family: her widowed mother and her two brothers, the elder of whom is an obnoxious bully. The girl is glad to get away to boarding school, and on the boat over the Mekong River to Saigon she is approached by a wealthy and handsome Chinese businessman in his thirties (Tony Leung) who makes moves to strike up a conversation with her. Once he has broken the ice, he suggests that he give her a lift to the boarding house in his car, an offer she accepts. There is an obvious attraction between them, but can they overcome the social rules that are designed to keep them apart?

Well, they give it a damn good try. The Lover, or L'Amant as it was otherwise known, was an attractive-looking adaptation of Marguerite Duras' supposedly semi-autobiographical novel by director Jean-Jacques Annaud and Gerard Brach, but it enjoyed a brief spell of notoriety in Britain during the early nineties, even if it is now mainly forgotten in the mists of yesteryear's minor scandals. English star March was criticised by the tabloid press for appearing in such a sexually explicit film and subsequently nicknamed "The Sinner from Pinner", thereby neatly illustrating the mistrust the British have of arty movies featuring sex scenes. But what of the film itself, was it just a succession of moody couplings?

There is a bit more to it than that, although the moodiness is definitely present. The girl is rather blankly played by March, and any depth to the character is solely due to the voiceover supplied by an unseen Jeanne Moreau as her older self, which doesn't explain how her accent managed to change from English to French in the intervening years. There's the wistful tone of remembering a passionate but unfairly shortlived affair throughout, an affair which begins when the girl notices the Chinese man hanging around outside the school in his chauffeur driven limousine. They're desperate to see each other again, and the pair eventually meet in a bachelor room in one of the less salubrious parts of the city - which is still shot in the dreamy way that the rest of the film is shot in.

So we get the anticipated love scenes, which don't amount to much more than classy soft porn, and there's a notable lack of spark between the actors meaning you have to take their attraction largely as read. But once these parts are out of the way, the rest of the film falls a little flat, the most emotionally heated sections being the ones with the girl's ghastly family who try to exploit the Chinese man for his money, yet are hypocritically shocked to discover she is sleeping with him. It's an impossible situation, naturally, and the girl knows it, but instead of any swooning and doomed romance the whole comes across as somehow seedy - the girl tells her lover she is seventeen, but she's really fifteen and a half. And the manner in which it is all filmed is more informed by March's glassy stare than any simmering desires, with Leung charismatic but distant. It's really a coffee table book of an enterprise, pretty as a picture but just as lacking in profundity. Music by Gabriel Yared.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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