Thursday, March 7, 2024

Pham Thien An's “Inside the Yellow Cocoon Shell” at Northwest Film Forum: Mar 6 - 10

Winner of the Camera d’Or at last year's Cannes Quinzaine des Cinéastes, Pham Thien An's “Inside the Yellow Cocoon Shell” is first and foremost a gorgeous film, thanks to the measured cinematography of Dinh Duy Hung. Taking in the natural beauty of rural Vietnam with exquisite detail, from mountains shrouded in fog, to nighttime visions of hallucinogenic phosphorescence, the ligerings passages of unperturbed nature create an ethereal quality to the film's narrative. Through extended passages of long shots, one of the pleasures of this "Meditative Mourning in Vietnam" is that it demands, and then rewards the viewer giving themselves over to the lingering attention and precise pacing of the film's structure. After a motorbike accident results in the death of his sister-in-law, the film's protagonist, Thien, takes on the responsibility of his young nephew Dao, returning to their rural hometown for funeral services, and to deliver Dao to his relatives in the countryside. Playing this month at Northwest Film Forum, An's first feature-length film follows its protagonist at an unhurried pace through the numerous detours along the course of his expedition. This becomes a journey of a multifaceted nature, moving through stages of grief, bonding with his young nephew, as "A Wanderer on a Spiritual Quest" Thien revisits his personal questions of faith, the community, and religion that he left behind in pursuing an independent life in the city. Having returned to his rural origins, Thien begins a pilgrimage through memory, past friendships and lost loves, engaging in conversations on death and faith along the way. Punctuating his journey, Thien's dreams increase in vibrancy and frequency, increasingly blurring the border between the real and the imagined, resulting in, "Inside the Yellow Cocoon Shell: A Jewel of Slow Cinema is a Wondrous Meditation on Faith and Death". The film Justin Yang called, "One of the Best Movies of this Year" in the pages of the Los Angeles Times, starts as a search for the protagonist's brother, but then shifts its focus to the complexities of assimilating the presence of death in life, and the value of faith in this process. The film's spiritual sojourn establishes a contrast with Thien's urban life, presenting solitary travel as the essential zone in which to discover the time, and self, in which to begin the process towards the absorption, and acceptance, of life's unknowable mysteries.