and her two sisters never made a fuss over their parents’ birthdays while they
were living, yet they will prepare lavish feasts for the memorial
anniversaries. The irony is not lost on the sisters, because in most respects
they embrace life in the moment. However, their romantic entanglements become
distractingly messy in Vietnamese-born French-naturalized filmmaker Tran Anh
Hung’s The Vertical Ray of the Sun (trailer here), which screens as part of Luminosity,
MoMA’s retrospective tribute to cinematographer Mark Lee Ping-Bing.
Vertical is sort of like
the lushest, most sensual film Yasujiro Ozu never made. You might say “nothing
happens,” but the truth is an awful lot of life transpires for the Vietnamese sisters.
However, that late summer vibe will lull viewers into a sort of listless bliss,
just as it does to the characters. That would be Lee at work.
parents died one month apart. That should be romantic, but the circumstances
were complicated. Lien and her married sisters, Suong and Khanh have mostly
come to terms with it. As a result, the family café bustles with activity as
they prepare for the first feast. As usual, they tease and cajole their
reluctant young brother Hai into helping. That is especially Lien’s M.O. She
and Hai are roommates who always start they day together bantering, exercising,
and dancing to Lou Reed and the Velvet Underground.
Lien and Hai might be so close, they could be crowding out potential romantic
interests. Still, their mornings certainly look like a lot of fun. In contrast,
Suong and Khanh must manage highly imperfect spouses and suspicions of
infidelity. In one case they are justified, but not the other. Some viewers
might be frustrated with the lack of closure for these subplots (as well as
others), but Vertical is rather
scrupulously focused on the period between each memorial feast. It is a
somewhat arbitrary time frame, but a significant one.
golly, just about every aspect of Vertical
is visually arresting, starting with Lien and her ridiculously
photogenic family, but also most definitely including Lee’s rich, verdant cinematography.
It is the sort of film you just want to soak in, like a hot tub. Consequently,
viewers face the potential danger of losing sight of Tran Nu Yên-Khê’s acutely
sensitive and utterly seductive performance as Lien. Likewise, Nguyen Nhu Quỳnh
and Le Khanh have moments of pure beauty as Suong and Khanh, respectively.
For those who find Vertical uneventful, we just don’t know what to tell you. The truth
is you will be hard pressed to find another film that is this emotionally
mature and yet so sexually charged. If that bores you, you’re on your own.
Highly recommended for sophisticated viewers, The Vertical Ray of the Sun screens this Sunday (6/19) and Tuesday
(6/28) as part of Luminosity at MoMA.
Labels: Mark Lee Ping-Bing, Tran Anh Hung, Vietnamese Cinema