Complete A-Z list

Sea Wall, The


Stars: Isabelle Huppert, Gaspard Ulliel, Astrid Bergès-Frisbey, Randal Douc, Vincent Grass, Lucy Harrison, Stéphane Rideaux

Director: Rithy Panh

A remake of a Hollywood pot-boiler of 50 years ago (with Anthony Perkins and Silvana Mangano), still set in early 1930s' French Indo-China, but with the focus shifted to the mother figure - then Jo Van Fleet, but now played by the equally formidable Huppert.

With the earlier film, the new version (both are based on Marguerite Duras' autobiographical novel) shares beautiful Technicolor photography, and a certain confusion of character. The people here don't really seem to know what they want and behave with little consistency or logic. Consequently, it's hard to get involved with their fortunes.

Huppert, however, really does look like a dying woman, as the terminally-ill (with TB) French paddy-field owner who fights an ongoing battle with the sea as it swamps her crop of rice each December, while fending off both local banks and moneylenders, and the restlessness of her son (the impossibly handsome Ulliel from Hannibal Rising) and daughter (appealing newcomer Bergès-Frisbey), now nearly 20 and 17. She resolves to build a massive sea wall to save next year's crop - and her living.

Matters are both complicated and improved by the attraction of a rich local Vietnamese (Douc) to the daughter. Slow and uninvolving, the film still remains a fascinating watch, with the aura of 1931 Cambodia beautifully caught by the perceptive cameras of Pierre Milon.

David Quinlan

France/Belgium 2008. UK Distributor: Axiom Films. Technicolor.
117 minutes. Not widescreen. UK certificate: 15.

Guidance ratings (out of 3): Sex/nudity 1, Violence/Horror 1, Drugs 0, Swearing 1.

Review date: 15 Nov 2009