Films & Schedules

  • Un Barrage Contre le Pacifique
    The Sea Wall

  • Rithy Panh

115 minutes

Production Company:
CDP/Studio 37/France 2 Cinéma/Scope Pictures/Bophana
Catherine Dussart
Michel Fessler, Rithy Panh, based on the novel by Marguerite Duras
Production Designer:
Yan Arlaud
Pierre Milon
Marie-Christine Rougerie
Pierre Mertens
Marc Marder
Principal Cast: Isabelle Huppert, Gaspard Ulliel, Astrid Bergès-Frisbey, Randal Douc, Duong Vathon

International Sales Agent:
Films Distribution

Tuesday September 0906:00PM VISA SCREENING ROOM (ELGIN) Best Bet Add Film to MyTIFF Filmlist
Thursday September 1105:30PM RYERSON Best Bet Add Film to MyTIFF Filmlist
Saturday September 1309:30AM CUMBERLAND 2 Add Film to MyTIFF Filmlist

Un Barrage contre le Pacifique is often viewed as a precursor to L'Amant, Marguerite Duras's better-known novel that followed it more than three decades later. Not surprisingly, the more widely known The Lover was first to make it onto the screen in 1992. Un Barrage contre le Pacifique has now been lovingly adapted by Cambodian director Rithy Panh, who has turned to a classic French novel to make a film about his native country. Heading his fine cast is one of the great actors of her generation, the incomparable Isabelle Huppert.

Duras set her novel in 1931 in French Indochina, which is now Cambodia, and peopled it with colonial French property owners. Its narrative follows a French widow and her two children, who eke out a living from rice fields located perilously close to the ocean. Every year, their fields are flooded with sea water and their crops are destroyed. Their only hope seems to be the construction of a seawall.

The mother is a fighter who refuses to give up, battling both nature and the local colonial bureaucrats who threaten expropriation. Her twenty-year-old son, a muscled, angry young man, is equally hard-nosed, but it is the wilful teenaged daughter Suzanne who is the most stubborn. One day, her willowy beauty catches the attention of a rich, immaculately dressed Chinese man who cruises around in a lavish car. As Monsieur Jo's interest in Suzanne veers toward obsession, her mother and brother find themselves in a quandary: Monsieur Jo could provide the financial security they need, but he is Chinese, and racial prejudice is a fact of life in their society.

Both Duras's novel and Panh's film are infused with the steamy heat and tropical atmosphere of the East, which combine with sexual and racial tensions to create a hothouse of emotion and passion. These diverse elements are held in fine balance by the cool hand of a director deeply embedded in the culture he is portraying. This is not the view of an outsider, but rather of someone who knows Cambodia intimately. His portrait of Monsieur Jo is of a man caught between two cultures and two worlds.

Piers Handling

Rithy Panh was born in Phnom Pehn, Cambodia. Imprisoned by the Khmer Rouge in 1975, he escaped in 1979, moving first to the Mairut refugee camp in Thailand, then to Paris, where he studied at L'Institut des Hautes Études Cinématographiques. His work includes the documentaries S21, la Machine de mort Khmère Rouge (03), Les Gens d'Angkor (03) and Le Papier ne peut pas envelopper la braise (07), the docudrama Les Artistes du Théâtre Brûlé (05), and the features Rice People (94), Un Soir après la guerre (97), Que la barque se brise, que la jonque s'entrouvre (01) and Un Barrage contre le Pacifique (08).

Cadillac People's Choice Award