Friday December 1, 1995
In Pauline Chan's awkward, painfully sincere "Traps," it's no wonder that Daniel Renouard (Sami Frey), the suave manager of a French Indochina rubber plantation, selected Michael Duffield (Robert Reynolds), a London-based Australian journalist working in tandem with his photographer-wife Louise (Saskia Reeves), to report glowingly of the order and control that the French have brought to Indochina.
For Duffield, who ludicrously believes that he and Louise are the best reporting team in Europe, is not only naive but obtuse. Having met Michael in Paris, Daniel realizes he's the right guy for Daniel's employer, the French Indo-Chinese Rubber Co., who wants to commission an important propaganda piece written presumably for the English-speaking media calling for an increased occupation force at a time (1950) when military control is eroding and civil war brewing. Just think, Michael could end up as editor in chief of all the company's publications if Daniel's bosses in Paris are pleased with his work.
Louise apparently wasn't along when Daniel and Michael met, for the second-generation French colonial might have thought twice about Michael's suitability had he had a chance to size her up. Louise is naive, too, but brighter and more open than her husband. Michael's promise to Louise of a terrific time in Southeast Asia evaporates as they discover the population sullen and fearful and guerrilla skirmishes far too close for comfort at Daniel's shabby but elegant palatial estate. Michael, as a result, immerses himself in self-denial all the more eagerly.
With her co-writer Robert Carter, Chan, a Vietnamese-born Australian in her feature debut, draws an all-too-literal parallel between the personal and the political as the disintegration of Louise and Michael's marriage is meant to echo the growing unrest in Indochina. Since Chan lacks the skill and subtlety to avoid the parallel from seeming arbitrary and schematic, she leaves the impression that there's a simple equation between being a lousy lover and a lousy journalist. But then "Traps" is an emphatically feminist work, with Louise's self-discovery and her forming a bond with Daniel's mercurial, miserable teen-aged daughter Viola (Jacqueline McKenzie) given equal--or more--weight than the oppressive plight of the Indochinese.
"Traps" is such a passionately committed film that it generates considerable raw emotion, and there's a great deal of honesty in the way Chan's four principals fumble around, sensing a need to connect with themselves and each other. But in delving into messy lives, entangled in politics and emotions, Chan has been unable to keep her film from seeming something of a mess itself.
Traps, 1995. R, for strong sexuality and some violence. A Filmopolis Pictures. Director Pauline Chan. Producer Jim McElroy. Line producer Tim Sanders. Screenplay by Robert Carter and Chan. Cinematographer Kevin Hayward. Editor Nicholas Beauman. Costumes David Rowe. Music Stephen Rae. Production designer Michael Philips. Art directors Philip Drake, Trinh Quang Vu. Running time: 1 hour, 24 minutes. Saskia Reeves as Louise Duffield. Robert Reynolds as Michael Duffield. Sami Frey as Daniel Renouard. Jacqueline McKenzie as Viola Renouard.Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times