English Title: The Lover
Original Title: L’amant
Country: France, UK, Vietnam
Language: English, Cantonese
Genre: Romance, Biography, Drama
Director: Jean-Jacques Annaud
based on the novel of Marguerite Duras
Music: Gabriel Yared
Cinematography: Robert Fraisse
Tony Leung Ka-fai 梁家辉
Marguerite Duras’ autobiographical recount of a forbidden amour fou in 1929 French Indochina, between a fifteen-and-a-half-year-old French girl (March) and a Chinese scion (Leung) twice her age. This film adaptation is beautifully shot by DP Robert Fraisse, for its stunning exotic scenery and erotic lovemaking intimacy, who earned the film the sole Oscar nomination.
THE LOVER is director Jean-Jacques Annaud’s sixth feature, four years after his animalistic faux-documentary THE BEAR (1988), a theme he would re-trace in TWO BROTHERS (2004) with tigers. Here, Annaud brilliantly lays the stress on the human’s most primitive libido over the opposite sex in this immoral passion act, the sex scenes are the most notorious takeaway of the film, they are artistically graphic and starkly intense, but also shimmers with a tint of obscurity under the shadowy light of the so-called “bachelor room”, where their trysts take place. Their sex attractions are alike, the vast differences of the opposite sexes between two cultures, two races and an upended social classes (she is from a poor French family where her widow mother works as a local French teacher in a shabby town, whereas he is a layabout who has an affluent father and a family business to take over) makes room for the story to develop in this manner.
Annaud is also no stranger to the Chinese soil, he would shoot SEVEN YEARS IN TIBET in 1997, which for political reason along with the director himself, was banned in China; nevertheless, his latest work WOLF TOTEM (2015), a Chinese-French co-production based on a popular Chinese novel is a huge box-office performer this year, one-time even selected as the Chinese entry for the upcoming Oscar’s foreign picture race (which was denied by the academy since its co-production status). In THE LOVER, his treatment of the Chinese man is slightly different from Duras’ words, his inferior masculinity is moderately muffled by a veil of oriental politeness and endurance, especially when encountering the provocation of the girl’s brash elder brother (Giovaninetti). But, when he is alone with the girl, a contradicted struggle between love and trade torments him and soon his weakness lays bare completely when he succumbs to opium and complies to the family-arranged marriage, but a final advent of the black limousine does suggest his futile but lingering attachment in their liaison. 1992 is such a banner year for Tony Ka Fai Leung, currently has three leading performances in my year’s top 10 list, his portrayal here establishes a disarming mien as “the lover”, a man whose job is to love, nothing else, incapable of changing his or his lover’s fate.
Accompanied by Jeanne Moreau’s resonant voice-over, reciting Duras’ segments of texts throughout, mainly we are channeled into the girl’s perspective of the affair, her precocious nature and non-conformist behavior, all through, in spite of her poverty-ridden background, she is the one monopolizes the higher standing in this romance, ascribed to the self-imposed superiority of a colonist, even during their first sexual intercourse, she makes the first move. Tangibly, there is something morally sickening in the colonized land, apart from their blatant interracial sex trade. Such a formidable role proves to be a double-edged sword for the débutante Jane March, whose comely but aloof pretense matches the character fittingly, but also would curb her future career as an erotic desire.
Frédérique Meininger, who plays the girl’s mother, in her very limited screen-time, manages to unfold a great range of emotional spectra from jadedness to chagrin, agony, then utter disillusion. Suffice to say, the film is an above-average piece of cinema erotica, which gives a shot in exploiting the colonized culture, along with some R-rated explicitness, e.g. a pair of gorgeous buttocks humping to-and-fro on the screen.