From the opening lilt of the Velvet Underground’s ‘Pale Blue Eyes’ (the song not only underlines the balance between motion and immobility which permeates the film but also establishes its dominant colour), it’s clear that Tran Anh Hung’s new film will be nothing like Cyclo. That was very much a Saigon movie, whereas this is set and shot in Hanoi, the more elegant and sophisticated northern capital of Vietnam. Three sisters prepare the family ceremony to mark the anniversary of their mother’s death; two are happily married, while the youngest, Lien, lives in a near-incestuous relationship with their ‘little brother’. One month later there’s the equivalent gathering for the anniversary of their father’s death. In between the two, the film reveals the secrets that each wife and husband keeps carefully concealed: a set of emotional infidelities which would destroy the family if brought into the open. Tran says the film was inspired by childhood memories of hearing his parents argue while maintaining a front of flawless harmony. Together with cinematographer Mark Lee (who shot half of Wong Kar-Wai’s In the Mood for Love), he creates the most seductive imaginable vision of that illusory harmony.
Vietnam/France, 1999.English subtitles.Colour.Dolby digital stereo.114 mins.