The Sea Wall (2008)

RITHY PANH

Bil’s rating (out of 5):  BBBB.5

Original title:  Un Barrage Contre Le Pacifique

France/Cambodia/Belgium, 2008.  Catherine Dussart Productions, Studio 37, France 2 Cinéma, Scope Pictures, Canal+, CinéCinéma, France 2, Bophana Production, Centre National de la Cinématographie, La Banque postale Image, Films Distribution, Sofica Soficinéma 4, Le Tax Shelter du Gouvernement Fédéral de Belgique, MEDIA Programme of the European Union, SCOPE Invest, Scope Pictures.  Screenplay by , Rithy Panh, based on the novel by .  Cinematography by .  Produced by , .  Music by .  Production Design by .  Costume Design by .  Film Editing by .  

Isabelle Huppert shines in this counterpart film to Regis Wargnier’s Indochine, covering a similar epoch coming to a close for the French in southeast Asia. Huppert plays the sole matriarch of a family who has lost her husband and now runs a rice farm with her teenage son () and dewy, lusciously innocent daughter (). The film opens with trouble as sea water breaks through the farm’s borders and ruins the year’s crop, putting Huppert in desperate financial need and forcing her to beg for loans and grace time from the bank. Meanwhile, a wealthy Chinese plantation owner takes a liking to her daughter and the desperate matriarch sees the opportunity to ease her money troubles, even after she begins to realize that he also has his eye on her property for his pepper trees. This gorgeous film, dripping with sensuality in every frame, adapts Marguerite Duras’ novel Un Barrage Contre Le Pacifique with meticulous attention to detail. Previously filmed as This Angry Age by Rene Clement in 1958, it brings the celebrated erotic author’s narrative to life through subtle, emotional confrontations and a deep respect for the history it is using as its background. Huppert has her best role in years, and handles it with her menacing, calmly mystifying presence at its strongest.

Toronto International Film Festival:  2008

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