All of life, together with dying, is within the prolonged, unbroken shot that opens Thien An Pham’s bewitching debut function “Inside the Yellow Cocoon Shell.” We start on the sidelines of an area soccer match in Saigon’s metropolis heart, observing the play from a cool distance earlier than following a shuffling mascot, wearing a wolf swimsuit, to the adjoining bar. There, crowds watch a 2018 World Cup fixture whereas a bunch of younger males, turned from the TV, drink and focus on issues of religion, existence and ennui. Thien (Le Phong Vu) is quiet and morose, solely half-invested in a dialog already beset with distractions: the gross sales pitch of a bubbly beer rep, the burst of a sudden summer time thunderstorm, a metallic screech and grim thump because the digicam once more drifts serenely over to disclose the aftermath of a deadly bike crash. In the following rhubarb of bystander concern, Thien stays put.
The absence of cuts on this immaculated choreographed lengthy take feels not merely like technical show-offery, however a mirrored image of Thien’s personal indifferent presence in a world passing him by. It’s solely later, in the course of an erotic therapeutic massage at a gents’s spa, that he learns the casualty of the crash was his sister-in-law Hanh; its survivor, his five-year-old nephew Dao (Nguyen Thinh). It’s an acidly comedian method into tragedy, cuing a wandering non secular inquiry that may soak up many such dazzling shifts in tone and perspective alongside the way in which, all wrangled with preternatural confidence and formal invention by its younger director.
Fully delivering on the promise of Pham’s well-traveled shorts — certainly one of which, 2019 Cannes Directors’ Fortnight winner “Stay Awake, Be Ready,” was the foundation for this function — that is difficult however seductive artwork cinema that invitations comparisons to such titans as Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Tsai Ming-liang and even Theo Angelopoulos, with out feeling by-product of any. A standout on this 12 months’s Fortnight program and among the many most auspicious debuts to pop at Cannes of late, “Cocoon Shell” ought to appeal to consideration from specialist distributors undaunted by the movie’s esoteric edges and languorous however rewarding three-hour runtime.
At the movie’s coronary heart is a warmly affecting story of loss and grief — for the lifeless, but in addition for alternate lives and alternatives missed — albeit one which reaches its emotional epiphanies in delicate, circuitous methods. In the absence of Hanh, the ill-equipped Thien turns into Dao’s momentary guardian; Tam, Dao’s dad and Thien’s brother, has been AWOL for years. Together, man and boy go away town, accompanying Hanh’s corpse to their distant residence village, the place the rituals of burial and mourning within the native Christian group are noticed in rapt, reverent element.
Thien, not a believer himself, has few phrases of assurance or comfort for his confused younger nephew, although he’s not unreceptive to the consolation others discover in religion, or the marvels of the residing world. He adopts and nurtures an deserted child hen, earlier than it, too, perishes and should be buried; he reunites with an previous flame, now a nun on the convent faculty he needs Dao to attend, however they’re separated by differing concepts of the divine. Pham repeatedly thwarts handy metaphors for redemption and renewal, as Thien should as an alternative embark on a extra difficult, irregular search by way of the wilderness — ostensibly for Tam, however basically for his personal soul, for an elusive sense of place and objective.
There is far apparent magnificence on this lush, rural Vietnamese hinterland, as DP Dinh Duy Hung’s meticulous, intricately staggered compositions paint within the wealthy, moist greens of the encircling forest, the mineral blues of weather-heavy skies and the interrupting gauze of mist over all the pieces. But “Inside the Yellow Cocoon Shell” (the title of which, too, hints at concepts of pure and non secular transition that the movie resists making literal) isn’t dully picturesque: No panorama is proven right here with out a exact sense of how characters view and reply to it.
Extraordinarily layered, fevered sound design, in the meantime, ensures that even the movie’s most notionally quiet, pensive scenes really feel bustlingly inhabited throughout the ecosystem. Much of the dialogue is woven by way of competing enter from livestock, birdsong, wind, dripping water and radio chatter. These tangible sources floor us even because the movie’s sense of time lapses and collapses, as previous and current, waking and dreaming, earthly and ethereal states start to slide casually into each other, and Thien’s quest circles futilely earlier than arriving at a type of grace anyway. “I cannot exist simultaneously in the light and in the dark,” Thien says at one level; in providing a splintered, elastic conception of non secular identification, exterior the foundations of non secular doctrine, Pham’s beautiful movie suggests in any other case.