For many, the film Indochine has become a great French apology for the colonial past. The French preferred to comprehend recent history through a family saga, which director Régis Varnier tried to give the character of a small epic. Catherine Deneuve in the title role has become a symbol of France – for the umpteenth time.
What is the film Indochine about?
In the opening shots of the film, we see Madame Eliana, a French owner of large rubber plantations in Indochine. She looks after her trees and slaves. They are not technically slaves, but Eliana treats the Vietnamese workers as if they were slaves, and she is sure that she is doing the right thing when she beats the delinquent.
A Vietnamese pupil with a French name, Camilla, is growing up in Eliana’s house. This is not just a Vietnamese girl, she is the heiress of an ancient imperial family. In the house of the mistress, she is taught, dressed and raised in the French manner. In general, Eliana treats her almost like a mother, until love for the same man arises between stepmother and stepdaughter.
Eliana and Jean-Baptiste met at the auction. A young French officer and a mature woman are connected by real passion. However, it soon fades… Let’s not forget that the film takes place in the 30s, when the world’s colonies are engulfed in the struggle for freedom, and Vietnam is no exception. One day, Camille finds herself in the hands of a terrorist: she is saved by Jean-Baptiste, who happened to be nearby, with whom the girl immediately falls in love. Now love flares up with irresistible force. And here the maternal instinct refuses Eliana – she wants to destroy this love, she wants Jean Baptiste to be transferred to serve in another place.
She then hastily arranges Camille’s wedding to a Vietnamese man. But, alas, this does not help Eliana. Now nothing in the world will separate the lovers. Moreover, Camilla escapes. And who helped her? Her fiancé is a Vietnamese communist. Now Camille is running exactly where Jean-Baptiste is serving. He recognizes her, tries to separate her from the crowd, violating the order of the commander. A catastrophe is brewing and it is happening – Camille kills the commander, she and Jean-Baptiste flee.
Now the lovers are nailed to the partisans, Camilla is pregnant, they are hiding in a group of traveling theater. Their capture is only a matter of time. Jean-Baptiste is found and handed over to the tribunal, Camille is sent to the camp, the newborn baby is taken away by Elian. But the officer does not die in prison: for one night he is released to say goodbye to his son, and in the morning they are found dead. The mystery of his death will remain unsolved.
The meaning of the film Indochine
The French, the former masters of Vietnam, seem to have decided to reflect on their dark past and embrace a future that no longer has white masters and their yellow slaves. But in order to apologize and cleanse, you need to understand what all these years have been? If at the beginning of the film Eliana fearlessly executes her subjects, she does not see them as people equal to herself, then the complex love story, the tragedy of her adopted daughter make her see the true state of things.
She is no longer a French lady in Indo-China carrying the “burden of the white man.” The people who were once her subjects will be free; they are at least equal to it, and in some ways they are superior. Their dignity, readiness for sacrifice and feat elevate them to an unprecedented height. It is Camilla who becomes the symbol of the new Vietnam, no longer subject to the French, free.
Meaning of the movie’s ending
At the end, when Camilla is left alone in Vietnam – now they call her the Red Princess – she says important words to Eliana: “Go away, your Indochine is no more.” The whole world collapsed, the world of the French colonists, accustomed to consider Vietnam, not only France, as their homeland.
But even more important is this … Etienne, the son of Camille and Jean-Baptiste, the child whom Eliana took with her and raised, remains with her. His real mother comes to Paris, he goes to meet her and Eliana is terribly worried: will THIS one leave her, as Jean-Baptiste once did? But no … Camilla took one man from her, but the second will remain with her forever. Etienne returns to Eliana with the words: “You are my real mother.” Love conquers all revolutions, all political vicissitudes.