Thu December 6, 2001
Vertical Ray of the Sun
If you understood that "Seinfeld" was about nothing, then you will accept that "Vertical Ray of the Sun" is about almost nothing.
By John DeSando, WCBE's "It's Movie Time"
If you understood that "Seinfeld" was about nothing, then you will accept that "Vertical Ray of the Sun" is about almost nothing. For instance, Hanoi is awash in color and brother and sister listen to Lou Reed while they exercise their bodies and exorcise their incestuous longings. Nothing else happens.
Meanwhile two other sisters are working through affairs that threaten their marriages but resolve in the film to uncertainty about their future. What is certain is the "violent and passionate undercurrent," as director Tran
calls it, with a "mischievous humor to it." I failed to find the humor or the passion, just a ballet of souls languishing in the boredom of marriage or the banality of emotional incest.
Almost certainly influenced by Chekov and his equally subtle three sisters, the director feels that "[h]armony, or the art of keeping up appearances, could be the title of the story." That's the real beauty of this melodramatic
nap, that passion hidden away from the world disguises everyone involved, so that only a wife could suspect a look or an innocent-looking note. On the surface is a harmony, a caf? of peaceful meetings owned by sisters whose stories will never be publicly told with passion or humor.
Any movie that calmly shows skin being pulled from a chicken foot or sisters talking furtively about sauteing and eating a penis should be full of passion and humor. It is not. It rather shows the director's appreciation of the Robert-Bresson school of directing where essence comes before adventure, restraint before passion.
Perhaps the director aptly characterizes his movie when he says, "My thoughts turned back to my childhood in DaNang, remembering the time when I'd be waiting to fall asleep at night, my mind racing from one thing to another, nothing precise. The smell of fruit coming in through the window, a
woman's voice singing on the radio. Everything was so vague. It was like a feeling of suspension. If I've ever experienced harmony in my life it was then. It was just a matter of translating that rhythm and that musicality into the new film."
I vote for "suspension" as this beautiful but slow film's operative word.
John DeSando co-hosts WCBE's "It's Movie Time" and vice-chairs the Board of the Film Council of Greater Columbus.