Dir: Thien An Pham | Le Phong Vu, Nguyen Thi Truc Quynh, Nguyễn Thinh, Vu Ngọc Manh | Drama 177′
Thien An Pham makes his feature debut with this languid mystical odyssey reflecting the history of Vietnam. It sees a Saigon songster embark on a spiritual journey into his past in search of a brother who vanished long ago.
Thien (Vu) is living a carefree existence in the capital when tragedy changes his life forever. The reason for this dramatic change is the death of his sister in a freak motor cycle accident. Thien must take his sister’s body back to the rural village where they grew up in, and find his brother, a committed Christian who his since left town.
Back in the rural village, Thien meets the craftsman Truing Quynh) a proud ex-soldier, who admirably refuses to take money for the shroud he has created for Thien’s sister. He fought on the side of the South Vietnamese army and lost many friends since they were heavily outnumbered. But he is stoical and full of forgiveness, even though the side they were fighting for was responsible for their defeat.
Thien also comes across Sister Thao (Quynh), a young woman who almost became his bride back in the day. Thien is aggressive towards her at first, his male ego playing up, but soon realises the mistake he made in letting her go. For the first time, he understands her decision to choose a life of chastity, poverty and obedience and wishes he could believe in God, something which still eludes him. Later he meets a friend of his brother, and he follows her to his work place deep in the jungle. Here, his faith will be tested once again.
DoP Dinh Duy Hung creates a mesmerising sense of place with breath-taking images in the jungle and the waterways that play with light and shadows and changes to reflect Thien’s emotional transformation. Thien’s struggle to be able to believe in God after all the years of a superficial life is an arduous one, but he tries to be honest, even when seemingly losing the battle.
An old motorcycle, which belonged to his father, is his trademark, transporting him through the countryside, often getting stuck in the mud and mirroring the peaks and troughs of his own mental journey. His endurance grows with time, but his brother, who seems to be at the heart of the enigma, remains elusive.
This is certainly an epic, a subtle, sinuous piece of filmmaking and Thien An Pham is certainly in love with his long travelling shots. Leaving some of these “darling Images” on the editing floor would certainly have made for a more concise, less languorous look at his country’s past. But there is no mistake, this is a filmmaker with talent. AS
CANNES FILM FESTIVAL 2023 | DIRECTORS’ FORTNIGHT 2023