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Vietnam 2001
Directed by
Tran Anh Hung
113 minutes
Rated PG

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
3.5 stars

The Vertical Ray Of The Sun

Synopsis: Lien (Tran Nu Yen-Khe), shares a flat with her brother Hai (Ngo Quang Hai) and live close to their elder sisters Khan (Le Khanh) and Suong (Nguyen Nhu Quynh). Spanning a year between the anniversaries of their parents' death we observe their closest personal relationships.

If you've seen either of the director's previous films, The Scent of Green Papaya (1993) and Cyclo (1995) you'll expect his latest outing to be visually ravishing. That is certainly is. Almost too much so, at times it looks like one of those photo spreads in a fashion magazine with a stylishly dressed, svelte model (here the Lien character) shot against lusciously exotic tropical backgrounds and colonial-style interiors. This near fetishistic attention to composition, framing and colour coordination, particularly as the film progresses, makes one question whether this is more style than content. A lot of reviewers have done that, found the film lacking and hence marked it down. This is not necessarily justified.

For a start, much as this is an almost surprisingly universalist human story there are no doubt cultural realities which Westerner may not appreciate and as always the necessity to read sub-titles forces a certain distance between the viewer and visual fact. Then, whilst admittedly the film is relatively plotless, assuming it is meant to be a window on the lives of an group of ordinary people lack of drama is hardly a criticism - our day-to-day lives are pretty humdrum. A beautiful mundanity seems to be what this film is largely about.

More questionably, however, it seems a contrived mundanity. Nobody actually appears to do anything. The sisters run a café but we never see them lift a finger to run it, the writer husband goes to Saigon and stays at the upmarket Hotel Sofitel but we never know why, the other husband is takes photographs for botanical publications and the little brother is a wannabe film actor. How do they fund their langorous lifestyles? Inherited money? In other words the subjects form a charmingly artistic little sub-world of zen-like stillness.

So don't go and see this if you've had a long day - the splashing rain and endlessly chirping crickets are positively soporific. If, however, you feel like escaping to an idyllic otherness, please board now.




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