The Lover

1992, R, 115 min. Directed by Jean-Jacques Annaud. Narrated by Jeanne Moreau. Starring Jane March, Tony Leung.

REVIEWED By Pamela Bruce, Fri., Jan. 8, 1993

Annaud (The Bear) and screenwriter Gerard Brach (The Tenant, Tess) successfully craft Marguerite Duras' coming-of-age memoir L'Amant into a hypnotic, sensuous film teeming with undercurrents of sociopolitical implications in its tale of forbidden love (that is somewhat reminiscent of Duras' screenplay Hiroshima, Mon Amour). Through narration by Moreau that evokes the “tobacco and love” wisdom of an aging Duras as she pens her recollections, the viewer is drawn to 1929 Saigon during the era of French colonialism in Vietnam, where “The Young Girl” (March) -- as a curious, precocious schoolgirl perpetually decked in an oversized silk dress, time-worn evening mules, and a man's fedora -- lives a life of poverty in a fatherless, loveless household. One steamy afternoon on a boat crossing the Mekong River, the wealthy handsome “Chinese Man” (Leung) nearly twice her age, spies the lanky Young Girl posturing near the railing from his ferried limousine, and nervously approaches her. (“The Young Girl” and “The Chinese Man” are the names given these characters in Duras' autobiographical fiction.) Erotic, unspoken tension builds between the two as she accepts his offer of a chauffeur-driven ride to Saigon (as opposed to the usual, bumpy-back-of-the-crowded-bus ride with peasants and their chickens), and intensifies as he obsessively waits to catch a glimpse of her as she leaves school every day. Soon, they become impassioned lovers trysting in a dark hideaway on a crowded, anonymous backstreet in Saigon. Yet, cultural prejudice and the restraints of tradition are what create the cold, emotionless chasm that dooms their union spiritually. The inexperienced Young Girl is selfishly looking for a measure of self-worth through a hardened, yet romantic veil offering the exotic taboo of being financially kept by an older man -- not just any older, rich man, but a dark sophisticated “Chinaman.” Facing a grim future of a loveless, traditionally-arranged marriage to a stranger, her Chinese lover wants to capture a fleeting moment of elusive “once in a lifetime love” that compels him to the Young Girl, even though he knows that despite his wealth and Western impeccability, she is incapable of perceiving him as anything more than an “inferior” to be “toyed with” -- typical of the perspective of Eurocentric colonialists before and during this period (which Annaud also examines in his 1977 film, Black and White in Color). Rounding out the richness of this film are the fresh, subtle performances of both March and Leung, as well as the haunting images of a forgotten time and place brought together by stunning photography (Robert Fraisse), and detailed, seamless production design (Thanh At Hoang) produced on location in the present-day Socialist Republic of Vietnam. The Lover is one of those great films that shouldn't be missed.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for almost 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

More Jean-Jacques Annaud Films
Wolf Totem
The director of The Bear is back for this human-and-wolf-cub story

Marc Savlov, Sept. 18, 2015

Two Brothers
Two tiger cubs separated during infancy are cast to the winds of fate in French-occupied Indochina.

Marrit Ingman, June 25, 2004

More by Pamela Bruce
This New Age tone poem captures images from 24 countries that transcend geographical and language barriers.

Dec. 17, 1993

Peking Opera Blues
Deception and betrayal in culture and politics take center stage in this splendid narrative that shifts between farce and violence, suspense and emotionality.

April 23, 1993


The Lover, Jean-Jacques Annaud, Jane March, Tony Leung

One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

New recipes and food news delivered Mondays

All questions answered (satisfaction not guaranteed)

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle