French Indochina, 1931. In the Gulf of Siam, a Widow and her two children, Joseph, 2o, and Suzanne, 16, barely survive by exploiting rice fields located much too close to the ocean. Every year their crops are flooded and their only hope lies in the construction of a seawall. The mother refuses to give up and desperately battles both the sea and the corrupt colonial bureaucrats ... Written by
This diamond ring is getting around: from Monsieur Jo's ring collection to Suzanne's finger, then back to Jo, then to Suzanne again, then the French woman gets it after some nocturnal goings-on with Joseph, Suzanne's brother, then it comes back to Suzanne... whew, what a journey for a flawed piece of goods. As a symbol of human desires gone out of whack, it's really effective. Just as effective are the scenes of the villagers being exploited by Jo and his henchmen in the Land Registry, and the revenge taken on a hapless official by the villagers: Rithy Panh grew up in a totalitarian state and understands the mechanisms of colonial corruption and brutality. His camera quietly records all the actions of a colonial regime desperate to keep its power and privileges in a far-away land.
The actors are mostly very good. Gaspard Ulliel stands out as the son who has great value as a gigolo, not so much as a plantation boss. Astrid Berges reminded me of Jane March in L'Amant: she's pretty and looks like a prize for a rich planter. Lucy Harrison as Carmen has a wonderful easy charm in her two scenes. Stephane Rideau as Agosti has had his part trimmed considerably from the important role he plays in Duras's novel, and that detracts from the power of the film. Finally Isabelle Huppert gives one of her star turns: she understands the nervous energy of Mme. Donnadieu, and her willingness to play the game of racial superiority over Jo, but the iron will the woman had is somehow missing. It's a three-quarters performance.
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