The film I have for you this Friday is Indochine a French film from 1992 starring Catherine Deneuve, Vincent Perez and Linh Dan Pham.
I watched this film several years ago when I was in my Vincent Perez phase which was comparitvele short-lived but rather intense. He's another actor who has incredibly expressive eyes which I find so intriguing.
The movie takes place in French Indochina and is about a French woman who owns a rubber plantation and the orphaned Vietnamese girl that she raises as her own daughter. It is set in the 1930s against the backdrop of the rising Vietnamese Nationalist movement. Vincent Perez plays the French Naval Officer that mother and daughter both fall in love with. How real that love is, is a question I have often struggled with. As in most works of art that deal with the shift from colonialism to post-colonialism, most of the characters and relationships represent larger ideas about the relationship between countries than what appears on the surface.
This is an intense film loaded with passion, beautiful locations, desperate love affairs and intrigue.
My book recommendation this week is Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys.
I read this book in a college literature class that focused on colonial and post-colonial literature. My professor was a wonderful woman named Zoreh Sullivan who had a lovely British accent shaded with something else, though I was never sure what. She called the first half of the semester "Literature of the Empire" and it included books written by the colonizers about the lands and people they colonized i.e. Rudyard Kipling a British author born in Bombay, etc. The second half of the semester was called, "The Empire Writes Back" and included books written by the colonized i.e. Jean Rhys who was born in Dominica to a Welsh father and Creole mother.
Wide Sargasso Sea tells the story of Mr. Rochester's wife from Jane Eyre. Who was this woman? What made her lose her mind? What life might she have led before ending up in the attic? Jean Rhys gives her an identity and a life beyond the shadow figure raving in the attic and, in the process, makes a statement about colonialism and loss of native identity. This book left such an impression on me that I have never been able to read Jane Eyre. I read Wide Sargasso Sea before ever attempting Jane Eyre and had such sympathy for Antoinette, that I have felt a grudge against Mr. Rochester and Jane ever since.
This is a lush book full of heady passion and one woman's struggle, like her country, to be herself and be proud of it rather than conform to what the colonizers would make of her. As she goes from innocence to madness, you begin to realize you cannot desire something for its wildness and inherent natural beauty only to then try to assimilate it, necessarily destroying the things that made you desire it in the first place and expect a good outcome. This is what happens to Antoinette and, on a larger scale, those countries subjected to colonialism. (There is also a movie from 1993 if you are so inclined.)