Three Seasons Movie Review
For a California-raised auteur barely out of film schoolwho hadn't set foot in his birth nation of Vietnam since age 2, writer-directorTonyBui has a remarkable, native sense of the difficult,day-to-day existence of Saigon's lower caste.
His Sundance-sweeping feature debut "Three Seasons"-- which took home the Grand Jury, cinematography and audience awards fromPark City this year -- juggles a trio of deeply affecting stories, ladenwith powerful symbols of this nation's asymmetrical modernization and isrefreshingly devoid of war references and Western perspective.
Bui uses the region's three weather cycles -- dry, wetand growth -- as backdrops for his stories, each of which represent a partof part of contemporary Vietnam's soul.
During the dry season, an impoverished and reserved cyclodriver (Don Duong) tries tentatively to romance an upscale prostitute (ZoeBui, no relation) who has determined to marry well with one of her wealthy,mostly Western johns. In the wet season, a homeless little boy (NguyenHuu Duoc) tries to survive on the streets after having his suitcase ofsalable trinkets stolen, while a world-weary former American soldier (HarveyKeitel) searches for his war-born daughter. In the growth season, an intelligentbut trapped, pretty, young lotus harvester (Ngoc Hiep) befriends an agedpoet, disfigured by malaria, who learns the joy of writing again by dictatingto the willing girl.
Bui commands heart-bearing performances from his cast andbrings these stories vividly to life with enrapturing photography (by LisaRinzler) that relays both the horrendous heat and dust of Saigon's streetsand the contrasting luster of tourist hotels frequented by the hooker.He also captures the fantastic beauty of a lake full of blooming lotusesand the torrential downpours that make living on the city's streets suchan arduous prospect. Nary an image goes to waste under the rookie director'ssymbolically fertile lens and nary an emotion goes unexplored in this deceptivelysimple film.
Aided by the influence of two high-profile project cheerleaders-- Keitel in the States and Duong (a respected Vietnamese actor who happensto be Bui's uncle) in Saigon -- "Three Seasons" became the firstAmerican production in his native country since the war (and the only USfilm shot ever entirely in Vietnamese).
With results like this, Bui will certainly be welcomedback if he ever decides to make another film there and, depending on themovie's success, he may have opened the door for more American fundingof foreign language films. Lets hope they will be on par with this accomplishedfirst effort.