An atmospheric evocation of life on the banks of the Saigon River, Dang Di Phan’s Big Father, Small Father And Other Stories is a gently haunting muddle.
Good Morning, Vietnamby Mark Wilshin
CAUTION: Here be spoilers
Set just upriver from Saigon, Big Father, Small Father And Other Stories is the very delicate tale of one young man finding himself. A photography student, Vu (Le Cong Hoang) is more of an observer – watching the unexplained crowd of orphans and friends that hangs out at his father’s house with distant interest. But from starting out alone in his dark room with only his photographs for company, he’s soon off to the city with hunky Thang (Truong The Vinh), who works as a barman in a club with the beautiful Van (Do Thi Hai Yen). Disjointed in its storytelling, slowly an atmospheric portrait emerges of life on the banks of the Saigon River as Vu develops a crush on Thang. And director Dang Di Phan ensures some beautiful visuals – from the slow-mo of Van smoking crack and a haunting still of birch trees to the naked mud writhing that ends curled in an embryonic ball. The visuals are however overplayed at times – the scene in the mud baths, for example – to the detriment of story. To the point where we no longer know or care what happens to Vu, Thang and Van. It’s a gentle and beautiful evocation of gender roles and homosexuality in Vietnam and has some touching moments – like the submerged father (a brief homage to Apocalypse Now) collapsing the boat in which a drunk Vu is trying to seduce Thang. But like the photographs Vu produces, Big Father, Small Father And Other Stories is a slideshow of beautiful snapshots – once luminous but then forgotten.
Big Father, Small Father And Other Stories is now showing at the 65th Berlin Film Festival