Film: The Lover (L’amant)
Cast includes: Jane March (Beauty and the Beast), Tony Leung (mostly Hong Kong films), Jeanne Moreau (Jules et Jim) as voice over
Jean-Jacques Annaud (Seven Years in Tibet)
Genre: Historic-based drama/biography/love story (1999), based on a memoir by Marguerite Duras
In brief: He’s taken with her because of the hat… a man's fedora. It’s 1929, and they’re on a small ferry, crossing the Mekong. She is the only white girl on the Asian bus. Now at the railing, he offers her a cigarette. He tells her she’s beautiful, and he offers her a ride to Saigon in his big black car. She says she’s 17, but she’s only 15 and a half. He says he’s 32, and he probably is. He’s Chinese, a minority in Indochina. And he’s very, very wealthy… he’s never worked and he never will. In the chauffer-driven car, they mostly ride in silence. But his hand seeks hers, and the air sizzles with sexual tension. When he leaves her at her boarding house, she goes without a word. The next day, the big black car is waiting outside her school. And the day after, it’s there, too. This time she gets in.
He takes her to Cholon (the Chinese Town), where he has a bachelor’s room. He tells her that rich, young Chinese men have mistresses. Does she mind? She doesn’t… she wants him to do what he does with the others. After taking off her dress “and the little white underpants, he takes her naked to the bed. But he can’t do it. She’s too little. So she’s the one”… that undresses him… button by button. They make love in the afternoon, with the sounds of the Chinese Town just outside the slatted windows. And every afternoon after that, the driver takes her to Cholon to meet her lover in his bachelor’s room. He tells her he knows about her family from his servants. They’re very poor. When her father died her mother lost everything. When he asks how they survive, she says “we do the best we can. We’re shameless.” But life at home in Sa Dec is horrid. Her older brother is addicted to opium, and he ruthlessly bullies her helpless mother and younger brother.
There’s no future for her with the Chinese lover. “Marriage between us would be impossible,” he tells her. “Then it’s all for the best. I don’t like the Chinese very much.” And indeed, it’s better if others think she sleeps with him for money than for love. So she tells him she doesn’t love him. Anyway, there’s no way they can continue without the forces of the outside world encroaching. It will be decades before she can put the events of that year into proper perspective. And she will write about it in two memoirs.
Based on a bestselling memoir by novelist Marguerite Duras, the movie is a beautiful retelling of her last years in Indochina, before moving to France. Duras wrote two memoirs on those years… The Lover and The North China Lover… both attempts to understand the enigmatic events. The filmmakers used elements of both in adapting the screenplay. It’s a sensuous, cinematically exquisite exploration of forbidden love between two people of different ages, backgrounds, races and status. Much of the wonderful Jeanne Moreau voice over is taken directly from Duras’s memoirs.
4 popped kernels
Popped kernels for the being incredibly beautiful. It's a wonderful story, based on a wonderful memoir. Excellent casting, acting, production. It's an interesting place in history, and there's a lot to think about.