'Overseas' is a brilliant narrative told three times

March 24, 1992|By Stephen Hunter | Stephen Hunter,Film Critic

"Overseas," at the Charles, has three things right with it: It is overintelligent, overinsightful and over here.

A graceful choreography of ironies and epiphanies on the subject of the decline of empire, the French film follows as three sisters, beauties all, begin 1946 as the inheritors of the mantel of stewardship of Algeria. We see them first in a dinghy approaching the shore from a beach outing: fair, windblown, delicate and yet beaming with strength and confidence. The daughters of a powerful retired Colonial officer, they look forward to that which befits their status: prosperity, honor, stability, a sense of belonging.

Ten years later, all is lost, including two of the sisters.

The movie has a curious correspondence to, of all things, "Fiddler on the Roof." Each daughter in both pieces has a slightly more progressive attitude toward the system they are inheriting and each chooses as lover a man who represents their distance from the system.

The eldest marries a naval officer, an icon of the very machinery of the imperial system. The middle one a plantation owner, one of the benign exploiters. The third one manages to find an even more politically incorrect lover.

The movie is told in a brilliant narrative scheme, as three overlapping chronologies, each from a sister's point of view, so that we see several of the key episodes differently, and in each accounting learn more about what was really happening. For example, of one episode where the middle sister just happens to find her younger sister out on the porch during the emergency, we learn in the next episode that the sister was really signaling her lover, an Algerian guerrilla.

A first film, with autobiographical overtones, by Brigitte Rouen, who in fact plays the middle sister (a brilliant performance), "Overseas" is exactly the kind of movie no one makes anymore. It doesn't take as axiomatic the moral superiority of the third world over the first, and it treats the end of Colonial rule as a complex change of order, tragic and ironic, not a triumph of the downtrodden.

"Overseas" will be at the Charles for the next two days.


Starring Brigitte Rouen and Nicole Garcia.

Directed by Brigitte Rouen.

Released by Orion.


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