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Coming-of-Ménage Story

Trapped: Saskia Reeves (left) and Jacqueline McKenzie

Sexual politics win out in 'Traps'

By Richard von Busack

"Everywhere, toilet." It's a Vietnamese driver who is speaking, telling his passenger that she can pee wherever she pleases, out among the trees of a rubber plantation. The easily understood double meaning is underscored in Traps, which is set in Vietnam around 1950, back when the country headed the list of the world's most wretched colonies. Our guides are a spineless Anglo/Australian journalist, Michael (Robert Reynolds), and his disenchanted wife, Louise (Saskia Reeves). The two have come to visit a Col. Kurtz-like rubber baron named Daniel (Sami Frey), who lives on the plantation with his strange teenage daughter, Viola (Jacqueline McKenzie).

Outside, in the orderly groves of scarred, dripping trees, insurgents are lurking, a few steps ahead of vicious, crypto-fascist Foreign Legionnaires. As a careerist, Michael is so eager to turn a blind eye to the savagery of the occupiers that he winds up in bed, politically as well as literally, with Daniel. Traps is an aggregate of a thriller and a feminist empowerment tale, neither aspect of which is as compelling as the film's sexual schematic, which is reminiscent The Rocky Horror Picture Show--Frey is French, but he could almost be Transylvanian, given the reptilian moves he puts on his ménage.

Traps is obviously no mere tale of white devilry. The sexual troubles of the stressed couple, bravely left unresolved, act as a balance to the badly tuned script, with its occasionally clumsy verbal exposition and symbolism. The film is based freely on Kate Grenville's Dreamhouse and transplanted from Italy by co-screenwriter Robert Carter and director/screenwriter Pauline Chan, a Vietnamese émigré who acted for a time in Hong Kong before making her debut as a feature-length filmmaker. She's a sturdy storyteller, as level-headed in the tropics as John Huston was, and she helps shepherd Reeves through a difficult role. Reeves' Louise is a wife who is on the verge of sexual awakening--it can't be predicted whether she'll really awaken or just go back to sleep again. Although Traps isn't the most compelling of films, it does convey a sense of emotional dread that pays off without pounding you senseless.

Traps (R; 96 min.), directed by Pauline Chan, written by Chan and Robert Carter, photographed by Kevin Hayward and starring Saskia Reeves, Robert Reynolds and Sami Frey.

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From the Dec. 7-14, 1995 issue of Metro

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