The Dreamy and Erotic Relationship in ‘The Lover’

By Olivia Norwood, Edited by Anthony Peyton

The ‘dreamy’ look is the cinematography that filmmakers such as Sofia Coppola and Bernardo Bertolucci have adopted and incorporated consistently throughout their films. This look is hard to summarize but in a word it would be ‘ethereal’ and usually the central or reoccuring theme of those films is ‘love’ and can be used to capture the feeling of love or falling in love.

These types of films, such as Call Me By Your Name or Her, have been successful in using this but none have ever accomplished it quite like Jean-Jacques Annaud’s 1992 film The Lover.

Set in the beautiful landscape of 1920’s Saigon, Vietnam, a young French girl (Jane March) from a broken, loveless home begins an affair with a wealthy Chinese bachelor (Tony Kai Fai Leung). Separated by class and race, they struggle to find acceptance amongst their families as The Chinaman (yes, that is his name) is arranged to traditionally marry a Chinese woman and The Young Girl’s family mocks the affair and call her a whore for her provocative behavior.

So they spend their days in a “Bachelor’s Suite” in the slums of Vietnam where they are hidden away from the European and Eastern societies.

We see these two worlds meshing together through the cinematography, which Robert Fraisse was nominated for at The 65th Academy Awards in 1993. The French/European elements play out more in the romantic scenes where it gives off a fragility with the lack of contrast while the Asian/Eastern elements appear in moments of stress and during their love scenes where the contrast of the Saigon sunlight reflecting off of their bare bodies and the dark, humid room create intimacy.

Though very different, it accomplished combining these two lovely and rich cultures/influences in a romantic way; which is what the story is about. We know what their love felt like because of the surreal way it was shown to us. We also gather the state of their own relationship and what exactly it meant to them both. In the case of The Chinaman, he was completely enamoured with The Young Girl while she convinced him and herself that she had no real feelings for him and was just using him for his money. No love and commitment, just lust and materialism.

The Young Girl, in the end, is finally able to come to terms with her immense love for The Chinaman and the two go on living apart for the rest of their days.

The darker contrasts are all in her perspective and are used for lustful scenes while the lighter, no contrast look belongs to his perspective where the scenes are more amorous and “rose-colored” than hers. Their relationship knows no middle ground therefore the cinematography knows no middle ground. They both exist individually while somehow remaining in a relationship with each other.

The Lover uncovers the inner journey of accepting love while also giving it. The bond between the two characters is not only sensual but sensitive and goes without saying that it is one of the most visually appealing films and one of the saddest love stories ever told.

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