American Fable is ambitious, maybe too much so sometimes, but there's an intense pleasure in the boldness of the film's style.
"Indochine" intends to be the French "Gone With The Wind," a story of romance and separation, told against the backdrop of a ruinous war. The French, of course, have their own ways of approaching such epic topics, and this movie is heavier on boudoirs and chic, lighter on bluster and battle, than our American classic.
It is also curiously inconclusive, leading up to a final meeting that never takes place.
There are many good things in this film, not least the sense of time and place: French Indochina, later Vietnam, from the years of colonial calm to the days when the French withdrew and the beautiful country became an American trauma. This period is largely seen through the eyes of the owner of a French plantation (Catherine Deneuve), her adopted Vietnamese daughter (Linh Dan Pham) and the daughter's son, who is raised mostly in France by Deneuve after the mother becomes a revolutionary.
There is always something bittersweet and decadent about the dying days of colonial regimes; the old customs have outlasted their times, and yet people go through the motions, their manners and folkways reflecting a certain stubborn pride. They are yesterday's people, not ready to admit it. You get that feeling in films like "White Mischief" and "A Passage to India," and you get it here, too, as the Deneuve character strides fearlessly among her plantation workers, who may, for all she knows, be communists preparing an uprising. She is protected by the invisible shield of decades of French rule.