(directed by Jean-Jacques Annaud, 1992)
***+ (out of 5)
> This erotic coming-of-age film tells the story of a 15½ year old girl attending a boarding school in southeast Asia, who decides, on a whim, to share her sexual awakening with a “Chinaman” who flirts with her on the ferry across the Mekong.
. She lies that she is 17, (what a difference a year and a half makes!), and against his better judgment, he falls into a torrid affair with her. Back at the boarding school, nasty rumors are beginning to circulate that she is a slut and a whore who sees her Chinaman only for the access it provides to his vast wealth. He engages his heart, falling hard for her- but for her, it’s strictly a physical relationship. As far as she’s concerned, not falling in love with him is part of the “rules”. She wants him to “use” her the way he would use any woman- sending their affair into darker territory. And because of the taboo against mixed relationships between whites and Asians, her dysfunctional family gets involved.
. Director Jean-Jacques Annaud has made many good films, (BLACK AND WHITE IN COLOR, THE BEAR, QUEST FOR FIRE, SEVEN YEARS IN TIBET), and THE LOVER can certainly be counted among them. The photography is sparkling throughout, accentuating a palpable sense of time and place that anchors the story beautifully. This young actress (Jane March) is an absolute stunner, and from the first shot of her on the ferry, we worry that as a naive, inexperienced waif, she is headed for big trouble. This is a film that grows in stature as it runs. The sex scenes, (and there are many), are a rarity in that they are genuinely erotic for the most part, and not exploitive, shining a clear spotlight on the pure sensual joy of sexual awakening.
. And the ending? Annaud got it just right.
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