Marguerite Duras’s 1984 novel memoir dealt with a poor fifteen-year-old French girl involved in a forbidden affair with a rich Chinese man in the Indochina of 1929. Director Jean-Jacques Annaud collaborated on the script with Gerard Brach instead of Duras (and, mon dieu, is she mad). It’s unlikely the film will equal its success in France, and not just because some nudity was trimmed to win an R rating.
Hong Kong star Tony Leung is elegant but too chilly as the lover. British model Jean March looks sexy in and out of her silk dress, but it’s hard to explain her accent alongside Jeanne Moreau’s very French narration as the elder Duras.
But the real problem is interpretation. Duras wrote of bodies and minds tearing at each other; yet the sex in the film feels choreographed. You can almost hear Annaud whispering, “Can you move your left breast, dear, to catch the light?” Duras never lacked passion. The movie does, and its absence is fatal.