For the past three years, the French Film Festival has been treating Filipinos to a wide range of movies. This year’s festival offered movies that were close to the heart of the Filipinos. Two of the offerings in fact had some connection with the Philippines’ experience with colonialism.

Indochine

Set during the turbulent French colonial years of Vietnam, Indochine is a haunting and poignant tale of a collapsing empire and a Frenchwoman’s futile attempt to hold on to her crumbling world. Eliane Devries (Catherine Deneuve) is a wealthy landowner living peacefully with her adopted daughter Camille (Linh Dan Pham), in a rubber plantation in Vietnam.

A strong, independent woman, Eliane’s veneer of calm is broken by a brief but passionate affair with French naval officer Jean Baptiste (Vincent Perez). The situation gets complicated when Camille falls in love with Jean.

In an attempt to prevent a budding romance between the two, Eliane enlists the help of a high French officer named Guy Asselin, to transfer Jean to a remote outpost, getting rid of him for good. But Camille flees from her arranged marriage and travels north to look for him.

Director Regis Wargnier used the picturesque countryside to unravel the raging turmoil in Vietnam and the characters’ lives.

The story, set in a slumbering pace, strikes the viewers due to its well-written script and well-conceived plot, highlighted by the excellent performances of the actors.

Deneuve’s beauty and striking on-screen presence give credibility to Devries‘ character. She proves her acting versatility with her convincing portrayal of a firm plantation owner at one moment, and a sad, jilted lover on the other.

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Baptiste’s character, a man of passion, is perfectly portrayed by Perez. Pham’s debut as the naïve and willful daughter of Eliane is touchingly heartfelt.

The intertwined lives of the three main characters mirrored the historical events of French Indochina. The maternal affection and arrogance of Devries and her exceeding love for her land and its people is an allegory of French imperialism. Camille’s transformation from an obedient daughter to a radical communist symbolizes Vietnamese sentiment toward France.

Filled with drama and tragedy, the film tackles political and social issues beautifully. Shots of Eliane’s plantation tenants working under the sun, the slave market, and the luxurious lifestyle of the French, show their callous indifference to the people’s toil.

Indochine leaves an acute sense of sadness and regret a feeling one gets in the aftermath of a seemingly pointless and bloody revolution.

Salsa

Salsa is a film about letting loose of one’s self and emotions on the dance floor. The movie depicts dancing as a therapy and a heady exercise designed to keep life fun and the heart young.

Remi Bonnet (Vincent Lecoeur) is a young brilliant concert pianist who abandons a successful musical career to pursue the music that he has always secretly loved Salsa.

Abandoning the classics, Bonnet goes to Bamboo Club, run by his Cuban friend Felipe, and hopes to find work in the Salsa orchestra. Felipe discourages him though, telling him that no Cuban band will accept a Frenchman. He is advised to stay at a nearby casa in the meantime. Upon learning that the place is owned by Chucho Barreto, son of a famous salsa player, Remi’s hopes of playing in a salsa band is renewed.

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Taking drastic measures, Remi literally turns himself into a Latino by getting a tan, adopts a Cuban accent and a new name in order to become a dance instructor at Barreto’s place.

Remi’s life as a salsa instructor runs smoothly until he falls in love with his student, Nathalie (Christianne Gout). The story gets complicated when Remi hides his real identity from Nathalie.

In a world where every black man wants to become white, Bonnet’s disguise is comic and ironic.

The exceptional cast helps director Joyce Bunuel to hone Salsa to perfection. Their lithe bodies grooving on the dance floor capture the underlying message of the film: a zest for life, which is what salsa is really all about.

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