“Indochine” – a French Tale of (Post)Colonialism



Title: “Indochine”

Release Date: 1992

Director: Régis Wargnier

Cast: Catherine Deneuve, Linh Dan Pham, Vincent Pérez


Régis Wargnier’s Oscar- and Golden Globe-winning “Indochine” is one of the most important French films of the 1990s. Shot on an epic scale, the story of the fate of a beautiful rubber planter is at the same time a narrative about the decolonization of Southeast Asia. Catherine Deneuve’s outstanding performance here grows almost into an allegory of France – a mature, wise and loving mother who is reluctant to part with her beloved Vietnamese daughter. However, it is worth remembering that this undoubtedly beautiful film remains the narrative of an ex-colonizer, who, although aware of his own faults, cannot get rid of nostalgia for a bygone power.

“Indochine” – an epic work by Régis Wargnier

“Indochine” presents the story of Frenchwoman Eliane Devries (Catherine Deneuve), who runs a rubber tree plantation in the Asian colonies. The film is set over the course of several decades: from the 1930s to 1954, when a conference approving the sovereignty of Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos is held in Geneva. Eliane excels at running her own business, which allows her to live a very high standard of living. She is also single-handedly raising an adopted Vietnamese princess, Camille (Linh Dan Pham).

One day Eliane meets a French officer younger than herself, Jean-Baptiste Le Guen (Vincent Pérez), with whom she strikes up a fleeting romance. Nevertheless, when her adult daughter also chooses him as the object of her affections, the woman breaks up with her lover. She also tries to separate the youngsters, using her influence, but sending the lieutenant to a remote area of Indochina causes Camille to run away from home. In search of her beloved, the girl travels through areas gripped by an ever-growing rebellion against the French. The journey and then the tragic end of Camille’s relationship with Jean-Baptiste completely change the girl. She herself is sent to prison for many years, where she becomes a communist and her son is taken into the care of his grandmother.

Indochine movie review

“Indochine” – a female narrative of decolonization

“Indochine” is, next to Jean-Jacques Annaud’s “The Lover”, the most important movie that is a kind of reckoning with the era of colonization of Asian territories by France. In both works we have to deal with the female perspective of history – it is a woman who is the main character and also the narrator of the story. The construction of this character in “Indochine” seems to have a symbolic meaning. Of course, Catherine Deneuve’s magnificent creation is undoubtedly multidimensional, but at the level of the story narrative can be read as an allegory of France.

Significant in this context is, first of all, her role as a plantation woman managing Asian workers. This function exposes the almost masculine attributes of the heroine, such as firmness, strength and even reaching for violence. In one scene, for example, we see Elaine perform a flogging on her employee who has dared to escape from the plantation. Although the woman simultaneously explains to the man that “it’s for his own good,” and she is like a “good mother punishing her child,” it’s hard not to see here the typical attitude of a colonizer convinced of his right to appropriate the Other. Also the role of the mother of the adopted Vietnamese daughter has symbolic connotations. We see here, so to speak, France portrayed as a good “mother” who loves her colonized territories, bringing them the very benefits: education and work. Meanwhile, the daughter fails to see these advantages and rebels against her mother and all the values she has instilled in her.

Indochine 1992 film analysis

he adoption of a woman’s perspective greatly softens the truth about the colonial past, avoids the image of the cruelty of the decolonization wars and presents only the end result: the shattering moment of France’s final parting with its lost influence. Decades later, Elaine tells the whole story to her grandson, who nevertheless obtains a one-sided version of events. In this account, the now-defunct Indochina here becomes a mythical space: it appears as a beautiful land flowing with milk and honey, magnificently portrayed by François Catonné’s gorgeous cinematography. And we succumb to nostalgia for things past, just as we delight in the phenomenal Catherine Deneuve, who won the hearts of the American Academy and it was her role that decided to award “Indochine” an Oscar.


„Kino końca wieku”, pod red. T. Lubelskiego, I. Sowińskiej i R. Syski, Kraków 2019.