Sunday, October 7, 2012
French Indochina between the World Wars. A 15-year old girl lives with her family, one of those French colonialists; her widowed mother, a sensible younger and an arrogant, aggressive older brother. On a ferry, she meets a Chinaman in his 30s who takes her to her school in Saigon in his car. She spots him again several times, waiting in front of the school. After a while, he brings her to his apartment and they have sex. With his wealth, he is able to charm her mother and brothers. However, when the girl starts asking money from him in exchange for sex, he starts losing interest in her. She moves away with her family to France. Decades later, he phones her and tells her he still loves her.
An adaptation of Marguerite Duras' autobiographical novel, Jean Jacques-Annaud's "The Lover" is a somber and even slightly nostalgic erotic drama that, despite the daring story revolving around a teenage girl having an affair with a man in his 30s, manages to avoid any controversial and/or questionable connotations, instead displaying 'neutral compassion' for the unusual couple in order to understand the two characters. The four sex sequences are good, yet overall the movie relies more on the sadness, tragedy and loss due to the fate of the relationship: the girl (her name is never revealed, but it is obvious she represents Duras) at first gets intimate with the Chinaman (his name is never revealed, either) because she likes him, finds him genuinely attractive - love - but then, because of his wealth, starts demanding money from him, which reduces her status to just the one of any prostitute, and makes him lose interest in her, ultimately marking the end of their bond. The movie is simplistic and low-key, with little happening during the running time of two hours, yet thanks to the sharp, meticulous cinematography, even ordinary scenes of Vietnamese landscapes seem more aesthetic than usual, whereas the director allows for the elegant story to be slow in a good way, i.e. it enables the viewers to dwell on it. Jane March is well cast as the main heroine, but Tony Leung does not lapse behind either, in the effective role as the wealthy Chinese playboy who is always the gentleman.