Traps

on December 01, 1995 by Kim Williamson
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   A sometimes gripping drama in which four characters find themselves trapped in both physical and psychological jungles, this French Indochina-era story is a return to "Indochine" territory. There, one French white woman who ran a rubber plantation came to personal terms with her country's incursion into Asia. Here, again on a rubber plantation, a dissolute French father (Sami Frey) and his gloomy daughter (Jacqueline McKenzie) are visited by an Australian/English journalist/photographer duo (Robert Reynolds and Saskia Reeves) who are also married and are, in a revelation explained late, at secret war with each other; Reeves' character feels her images, like her life, are at the service of her husband's stories, and she wants her view of the world back. A less secret war is approaching, symbolized by the sound of French artillery battling Vietminh guerillas trying to free their land of foreign control.
   "Traps" has been drastically adapted from a Kate Grenville novel, "Dreamhouse" (about an Italian who considers leaving her bad marriage for a possible lesbian relationship with the daughter of a peculiar English/Italian couple), by director/co-screenwriter Pauline Chan. A young expatriate Chinese/Vietnamese who attended both American and Down Under film schools, Chan and her cinematographer Kevin Hayward capture an aptly unsettling moodiness from their Vietnam locations. But the narrative proceeds in fits and starts and, despite Chan's assertions that most Vietnam movies are laughably inaccurate, the film has nothing new to tell about Asian strife or, for that matter, about relations between the sexes. There's an intriguing subplot--a subterranean-level relationship between the photographer and the daughter--but it has no resolution. A homosexual coupling does occur, but it's between the two men, and the film-makers' failure to build any groundwork toward that scene speaks volumes about the movie's complex but in some ways unconvincing characterizations. At "Traps'" core, Reeves (best known stateside for "Antonia & Jane") is dynamic despite, proving again her standing as one of Britain's best actresses.    Starring Saskia Reeves and Robert Reynolds. Directed by Pauline Chan. Written by Robert Carter and Pauline Chan. Produced by Jim McElroy. A Filmopolis release. Drama. Rated R for strong sexuality and some violence. Running time: 96 min.
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