A still from the film Inside the Yellow Cocoon Shell
ManOfTheCenturyMovie Film ‘Inside the Yellow Cocoon Shell’ Review: A Mesmerizing Vietnamese Drama Seeks Transcendence

‘Inside the Yellow Cocoon Shell’ Review: A Mesmerizing Vietnamese Drama Seeks Transcendence

A still from the film Inside the Yellow Cocoon Shell

A deliberately paced three-hour intimate epic, Vietnamese writer-director Thien An Pham’s debut film, ‘Inside the Yellow Cocoon Shell’ is a fascinating story of the soul’s unfathomable yearning for the next world , which itself borders on the transcendental in its cinematic realization and gradual blurring of apparent truth and suggested fantasy.

The film debuts in the Directors’ Fortnight section of Cannes, where the director has already received the Illy Prize in 2019 for the short film “Stay Awake, Be Ready”, in which a car accident on a street corner interrupts a conversation between three friends what a meal. That short feels loosely remade for the new feature’s opening scene, which expands on the idea of ​​exploring one man’s attempt to overcome a deeply unfulfilled life, taking him from the city of Saigon to the hinterland of Vietnam, both out of family necessity than for a search for meaning of where and how to proceed with his life moving forward.

“Inside the Yellow Cocoon Shell” opens on a static shot of someone in a mascot costume lingering outside where a soccer game is taking place in Saigon. The camera then pursues this brief subject of our attention to an outdoor park-side café, where three seated companions reject the costumed figure’s attempts at engagement. One of the men expresses considerable skepticism about his friend’s discussion of his faith and how easily he can believe in a higher power. The third man in the group, the thirty-year-old protagonist of the film Thien (Le Phong Vu), finally chimes in with his thoughts when asked: “The embrace of faith is ambiguous… I want to believe but I can’t. I have tried to look for it many times, but my mind always holds me back.”

Thien is about to be pushed to adequately deal with the notions of destiny and spirituality, even if he has a delayed response to engaging with the information that will set him in motion. About five minutes into the film’s running time, the discussion of Thien and his friends is interrupted by the sound of a collision nearby. Just beyond the premises of the open-air bar, a collision between two motorcycles occurred. Suggesting that both general apathy and such incidents are commonplace, nearby observers are slow to actually approach the three wounded or potentially dead bodies strewn across the road, while Thien is among those who simply sit in their seats.

Cut to Thien and friends at a spa later that night, where he repeatedly ignores phone calls. When he’s in a room for a private back massage, the masseuse asks him if he’s afraid to pick up his vibrating cell phone because she might be his girlfriend, to which he replies that “God is calling,” then referring to the deity as his “customer.” Moments later, the masseuse takes a cue from his sardonic comments when he appears to be adjusting his position as he lies on his stomach.”Is God stuck? Let me help you,” she says, before reaching down to his crotch to suggest to pull the contents of that area.

It is during this moment that Thien is finally forced to face the strange event that propels his journey forward, when another spa employee enters and interrupts to say that one of Thien’s friends insists that he absolutely needs to answer his phone immediately. . It turns out that his sister-in-law, Hanh, was killed in the previous motorcycle accident which Thien ignored, while his five-year-old nephew, Dhao (Nguyen Thinh), was (miraculously) largely unhurt despite being thrown from his vehicle by the police. mother.

Thien, who works in Saigon as a video editor and has been quite estranged from his family, is now Dhao’s only living relative there, so he goes to the hospital to meet the boy and take care of all the necessary procedures to transport Hanh. he body returns to their hometown. Inside the bag among her recovered belongings is a photo of Hanh with Thien’s older brother Tam who disappeared years ago. There are different stories of Tam’s absence scattered throughout the film. One is that he left his wife and child for another woman. Another is that he may have found a spiritual calling that required him to leave his family without any explanation. However, Dhao now needs a guardian, whether or not he is his real father.

Inside the Yellow Cocoon Shell Review A Mesmerizing Vietnamese Drama | ManOfTheCenturyMovie
“Inside the Shell of the Yellow Cocoon”

Traveling through Vietnam to his former country hometown, Thien attends Hanh’s Christian funeral. The proceedings, which include both night and day processions, are apparently staggered over a number of days, with Thien staying for about a week to pray for his soul with relatives, including Hanh’s brother Trung ( Vu Ngoc Manh). He also spends time with Dhao, who at one point asks him what “faith” means. For the child, the agnostic man compares faith to the certainty that a friend will return a toy you lent him.

Pham and his cinematographer, Dinh Duy Hung, favor long takes throughout the film. While some of these are static and wide-angle, many gradually transform within a given sequence that unfolds in real time; follow a character elsewhere outside of the initial point of view, taking them on a journey to another destination before they and the camera are still for a while longer. Never presenting itself as a turn of wheels, the relaxed rhythms serve to ensure that the sights, accompanying sounds and natural serenity of landscapes, farmland and city and village spaces – largely shot in natural light – are absorbed more deeply by the viewer.

It’s the kind of movie that constantly trains you to sense and eventually get lost in the sense of time, to the point where you can almost forget the camera’s presence even when it’s rolling. Live in the frame with Thien; camera and character timing meshed naturally.

Eventually Thien sets out to search for his missing older brother, though before he begins his mystical pilgrimage, there is something of a road movie feel to even the scenes within the confines of his hometown. The flashiest shot in the film begins with a long-form static shot lasting several minutes of an open-air conversation with Trung, with the camera following Thien and Dhao as they slowly ride on a motorcycle towards the city, to transfer the payment, on Trung’s behalf, to a man who supplied a shroud for Hanh.

Once they arrive, the camera hangs outside a house with no apparent cuts, as Thien enters the home of the old man, Mr. Luu, and has a long conversation that turns into a discussion of Mr. Luu’s memories of military service, injuries, police work and how he decided to devote the rest of his life to wrapping up the deceased. With the conversation starting at an open window, the camera pans almost imperceptibly from outside to the kitchen space inside the house. When there’s finally a clean cut, it’s nearly 25 minutes into the sequence with Thien talking to Trung in another part of town. The fact that Mr. Luu is a non-professional actor and a true local of the area, telling stories from the same life as him (though rehearsed so as to avoid incoherent bribes), makes the long sequence’s magic trick all the more impressive.

Thien has many other significant encounters on the road, but it’s a specific reconnection with his painful past that is the basis for the film’s most wonderfully moving sequence, in which the film’s flirtations with the surreal escape the confines of more explicitly designated dream sequences. . Stopping at an abandoned building and making his way to the roof, Thien appears to be followed by a mysterious young barefoot woman glimpsed through the windows to the side of the frame. On the roof, he suddenly engages in conversation with the figure who has approached.

She is Sister Thao (Nguyen Thi Truc Quynh), a nun introduced earlier, who was once Thien’s girlfriend before he moved to Saigon for work. The conversation they engage in on this puddled rooftop is one they had many years ago, but this is not a flashback in the traditional sense. While Thao is (initially) more bubbly and styled to codify her as her younger self, before she gave herself to God, Thien looks the same as she does for the rest of the film, and wears the same clothes she will continue to wear. wear. travel beyond this scene. Her memory of this event is represented by two intertwined timelines within the same physical space; it looks like he remembers when this conversation happened years ago (a Thien ghost can still touch and kiss), whereas he is how he currently is in the current timeline.

Thien’s reunion with a lost love seemingly able to resolve his once-heavy malaise through faith is one of several key explorations of divine calling in the film. And connecting with the film, getting into its wavelength, doesn’t depend on whether one has had one’s own direct experiences with religious faith to draw upon. Whether or not you’ve ever believed in a higher power, we’ve all wondered who we are, what we live for, and how to escape a certain mundanity that modern society can box us into. Based on the quality of his debut film, Pham has definitely found his divine calling with cinema.

Grade: B+

“Inside the Yellow Cocoon Shell” premiered at the 2023 Cannes Film Festival. It is currently seeking distribution in the United States.

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