One of my favorite scenes from the iconic French movie, Indochine (let’s face it: if it stars Catherine Deneuve, it’s iconic) is a conversation between Deneuve’s character, Eliane and her daughter Camille.
The scene is the breezy, tropically humid plantation house in Vietnam, also called Indochine. The blonde and tres francaise Deneuve is dressed in a black silk tunic and loose silk pants. Her character has clearly been born and raised here in the east, learning from her father the ways of the Vietnamese and somewhat strict yet paternalistic manner of running the rubber plantation.
The beautiful young silky-haired Camille, born of Vietnamese parents, orphaned, and then adopted by the French colonial Eliane, is now promised in marriage to a young Vietnamese boy, who happens to be studying in France.
Suffering from anxieties at her fiancé being away and likely questioning her identity, she asks the pertinent question: whether all French girls have light skin like Eliane.
Deneuve, spearing balls of mango and popping them in her post Belle de Jour, but toujours belle bouche, responds in a philosophical tone: “You know that what differentiates people is not the color of their skin?”
Camille looks at her questioningly.
With a flourish, Deneuve pops another mango ball in her mouth and declares: “C’est ca! C’est la saveur, le fruit” (it’s the flavor, the fruit).
Explaining further she relates that children who have spent all their years as an apple (that is having grown up in France), could not be like her, Eliane, for she is a mango, an Asian.
The implication is that her flavor, her very essence is determined by her rich tropical experiences, by her exposure to a certain climate, a specific culture – and it is not always what one would expect. She feels at home wearing loose silk clothing, savoring mango and (in a later scene) indulging in opium. Yet, she also feels comfortable amongst the colonialists betting on a rowing race, not to mention around the French navy lieutenant, Jean Baptiste. So, the essence is indeed a merging of different cultures and education.
Eliane knows what she wants (Jean-Baptiste)… and what she doesn’t (Guy Asselin). But most importantly, she understands her flavor, her essence, a quality much needed in order to venture into the world and complement other flavors.