1990 Directed by Brigitte Rouan. Starring Brigitte Rouan, Nicole Garcia, Marianne Basler.
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., May 1, 1992
Three French sisters live the lives of detached colonialists in late-Forties Algeria in this auspicious directing debut by Rouan (who also stars as one of the sisters). Their world is filtered through a scrim of privilege and dappled light. They are engulfed by the vast horizons of water as well as by the barbed wire barriers erected to keep the revolutionary agitators at bay. On the surface, the story seems conventional, one of those French reflections -- part wisdom, part whimsy -- about three different, yet very alike women and their loves and their attitudes. But, gradually, we come to see the metaphorical barbed wires that contain their thoughts, dreams and ambitions. It is here that Overseas becomes something of a feminist meditation as well as an anti-colonialist barb. Zon (played by Garcia, the director of Every Other Weekend) is the eldest and is married to a naval officer who, though mostly away at sea, manages to impregnate her nearly every time he docks. Initially, we think Zon is the central character in this story, for what we are shown are her pleasures and her tribulations. Then, after her life reaches a difficult emotional pitch, the movie's perspective suddenly shifts and begins replaying key events, only this time from another sister's vantage point. Now, the focus is on Malene (Rouan) and her marriage which compels her to wear the pants in the family because she married an effete man who's ill-suited to the life of a plantation owner. (He's always sitting reading a book while Malene is out working the fields and when they fight, Malene begs him to rise up out of his seat and at least be a man she can look up to.) She is her husband's proxy when it comes to dealing with the disgruntled native workers and when her own destructive fury finally erupts, she allows the blame to fall on one of the hapless rebels. By the third repetition, the film's emphasis shifts to the youngest sister, Gritte (Basler) who won't commit herself to marriage (she keeps losing her engagement ring) and works as a nurse (because her father won't allow her to become a doctor). She is also the one to become more intimately involved in the revolutionary ferment. What's most striking and memorable about Overseas is its unusual narrative structure that is both familiar and disorienting in its repetitive, backtracking, repositioning points of view. It relies too much of the time on the threadbare conventions of standard “women in love” stories, but its unconventional narrative format allows it to burrow in and poke intelligently through the ruins.