Oscar Movies: Lover, The (1992)

This film, which was unfairly treated by some critics and misunderstood too, is worth seeing.  By no means a great movie, it suffers from all the vices of international productions (different acting styles, various accents). But the film also deals with issues that are seldom portrayed on screen with honesty: first love, sexual politics, the power of sexuality.

Unfortunately, The Lover received excessive publicity for its graphic sex, which, for once, is crucial to the narrative and progression of its two characters. And the fact that French celebrity writer Marguerite Duras, whose novel served as source material, has repudiated the film and maligned director Jean-Jacques Annaud has also contributed to its dubious reputation.

With this in mind, I still found a good deal to respect about The Lover. The affair between a young French girl (incompetently played by British model Jean Marsh) and an older rich Asian (Tony Leung) is not about sex, but about power, pride, and the subtle relationship of identity and politics. Annaud effectively shows how the initially erotic affair increasingly turns less and less passionate. You get a sense of a girl deluding herself that she is doing it for money (to help her poor family) and also a feel of a first romance turned sour.

While watching this film, I inevitably thought of Marguerite Duras’ script for Alain Resnais’ “Hiroshima Mon Amour,” also about an interracial affair between a French actress and a Japanese architect; set in Vietnam in the l920s, The Lover can be termed “Saigon mon amour.” The intriguing context also urges us to consider the two protagonists as metaphors for the complex relationship of France and Indochina.

Oscar Nominations: 1
Cinematography: Robert Fraisse.

Oscar Context:

The winner was Philippe  Rousselot for A River Runs Through It.