To the Ends of the World (Les confins du monde, France, 2018)

Retuning from the end of the world

Overall this in a impressive Vietnam film all the better for offering a French perspective albeit one infected by Orientalism that, you’d hope, would be critiqued in the 21st century. It was shown at the Cannes Director’s Fortnight suggesting artistic worth and writers Jérôme Beaujour and Guillaume Nicloux (who also directed) have produced a thoughtful consideration of the ‘hell on Earth’ the French occupation caused post-World War II.

Apparently the lead actor, Gaspard Ulliel, is the ‘face’ of the perfume Bleu de Chanel; it’s interesting that the role he plays here couldn’t be further from such frippery. We meet his Robert Tassen digging himself out of a pile of dismembered corpses and he remains traumatised throughout the film. If being embedded in fragments of bodies wasn’t enough, his brother and his sister-in-law were amongst the victims so he spends the film seeking revenge against the North Vietnamese ‘general’ (I can’t remember the actual rank) responsible. The man clearly needs to be sent home for treatment but he refuses.

He seeks solace in drink and then is enraptured by mysterious prostitute Maï (Lang Khê Tran) which is where the Oriental cliche appears. To be fair there is a little more to her character than a cipher; we do get a sense that though she cares for Robert she knows that the reality of her situation means affection is meaningless. Throughout we do not have any sense of what the Vietnamese thought about the colonial power and the civil war; they seem mostly to be shown as an untrustworthy bunch. In this it was bit like watching a film from the 1970s, such as The Deer Hunter (US, 1978). Incidentally both the violence and sex scenes are explicit and I would have expected it to have been certified an 18 if it had been released in the UK (erect penises feature). However, the Myfrenchfilmfestival suggests 16+, which shows the difference between French and UK regulation, and I have no problem with that. I do wonder, though, at the suggestion 13+ on Amazon Prime.

Ulliel is excellent as the morally emptied soldier and I enjoyed Gérard Depardieu’s ex-pat who occasionally rumbles into the soldier’s life to offer advice. I’m not sure what his character, Saintonge, represents; the first part of his name suggests ‘holy’ but I didn’t get that. I also didn’t understand why one character had to ‘come out’ as gay just before dying.

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