In 1930s Indochina, Jean Baptiste, a suave young naval officer, becomes the lover of rubber plantation owner Eliane. However, Eliane's adopted young Vietnamese daughter Camille also develops a crush on him, unaware that he's mum's toy boy.
As this mediation of Frances imperialism during the 30s in what is now Vietnam comes from across the Channel, it is no surprise that its political points are overshadowed by the obligatory love triangle, or that, with typical Gallic cool, it rarely gets on its soapbox to bellow about injustices when a whisper will do.
More in passing than anything else, Wargnier builds a creeping case against the French who treat the country like a hotel shuffling scenes in which they idle time away at bourgeois evening parties, for instance, with mute shots of servile natives working at the crack of dawn, but never dealing them together to make the irony too obvious.
Neither does the director fanfare the hypocrisy of Deneuve's opium use while supporting the drugs-busting establishment.Wisely cast for her natural air of superiority, Deneuve is a vision of colonial chic among the untermensch, that fridge-freezer charisma of hers thawing nicely as she tries to do the right thing parentally-speaking and is swept off her feet by a hot young lover. The drama at its centre fails to entirely grip, however, until Camille's blinkered obsession with Jean-Baptiste bulldozes his resistance, and the pair canter off over the rolling holiday-brochure countryside after committing a crime of conscience, with the cops in pursuit.
Inevitably, this has far more resonance for French audiences exorcising their collective guilt over a dark corner in their past, but it's still a ravishingly shot and affecting film by any measure, topped off by the presence of two natural beauties: Catherine Deneuve and the South-East Asian landscape