Set in French-occupied Indochina on the eve of the protracted civil strife that would eventually lead to the Vietnam war, this first feature by Pauline Chan hauntingly evokes an era and a place, depicting this desperate time far more accurately than the 1992 Indochine. At the center of Traps is an unhappy young Australian couple–he’s a business reporter, she’s a photojournalist–who come to embody the outsider’s contradictory attitudes toward the colonized: self-serving indifference followed by bouts of outrage and compassion. Their hosts–a lordly French plantation supervisor and his rebellious teenage daughter–personify the colonizers’ ironic predicament, being trapped between cultures. The script by Chan and Robert Carter, loosely adapted from a Kate Grenville novel about the British uppercrust in Tuscany, isn’t overtly schematic; instead it focuses on the photojournalist’s political awakening, as a woman and as a Westerner. Her path to self-understanding and independence is also meant to parallel that of the oppressed Vietnamese laborers and peasants, though their feelings are only alluded to in a few key encounters between masters and servants. Chan, who was born in Vietnam and is now based in Australia, seems to identify most with the photojournalist and isn’t overly sympathetic to the Vietnamese guerrillas who endanger her life. Ravishingly photographed, mostly outside Saigon, the film sets the isolated splendor of the plantation estate against a vast, encroaching backdrop of forests and rice paddies. Saskia Reeves stands out for the subtlety of her transformation from wide-eyed innocent abroad to woman of action, and Sami Frey turns in his usual strong portrayal of saturnine decadence. Facets Multimedia Center, 1517 W. Fullerton, Friday, March 8, 7:00 and 9:00; Saturday and Sunday, March 9 and 10, 3:00, 5:00, 7:00, and 9:00; and Monday through Thursday, March 11 through 14, 7:00 and 9:00; 281-4114. –Ted Shen

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): film still.