The Way Station

I really like this film and I was impressed by it. It made me surprised because I noticed that films by directors who was originally actor/actress before usually concentrated on acting, character more than the visual telling like director or director who was originally camera man. But in her first film, Hong Anh really tell the story by visual, she set her own cinematic language, her own rule in her film by the composition, the structure of image clearly. It’s really a good art film. I was moved because she had the courage to make film like that. It maybe one of the Vietnamese films that I like most recent years.

The film opens with the strong image: the audience see a man’s arm on the beach and a girl from afar. This scene has no sound. It made me have a weird feeling. The first image of film just like a hook to me because I can’t explain it myself, I can’t link the images to make the story, it makes me wonder if the man on the beach died or not, why the girl just sat on the… (I don’t know its English word) and see the man. Then, the screen faded out to black and I heard the wave’s sound. We see again the sea but with the young man. And after that, I was afraid a little bit because Phuoc’s voice over seemed too much. I was afraid that her film would become the images illustrate for the narration in original short story. But I’m glad that it didn’t become true because in first scenes, she set up the mood, tone, and her telling style very clearly.

I noticed that there were so many scenes from the top view. I don’t know what the other audiences think about it but to me, it was weird and very distinguishing to notice. Because in the climax of the action in a scene, people often want to approach the character closer to see their emotion, to see their action clearly, to feel as if they were the part in the film, and in general, the director often satisfied the audience. But in some scenes, she cut to the top view right in the climax of the scene.

Ex: The scene when the wife cleans the skin for her husband in the bath. In that scene, when he pushed her into the bath violently, she cut to the top view and stop at it long a little bit. At that time, I feel that she want to keep the audience watch the film from the objective view, she make them realize clearly they are just neutral watchers, not the participants. Also, the top view makes me feel the wife is so little and so poor, I even misunderstood that she was just his servant in this scene. The other scene has the same style cutting is the scene when Phuoc and Khmer fighting each other. I can’t remember it all but I think there are still some scenes has the same cutting.

The top view scenes make me wonder whether they are just objective point of view that she used to tell story or they are subjective point of view from some character in film. That question stimulated me my interest to watch the film to discover it. And I don’t have to wait too late, I get an answer in the scene the diner saw the girl from the up floor. I think it’s the moment when the story really start with its main plot, the scenes before this scene are just like set-up to me. But the way she used fairly much top view from the beginning of the film gave me the expectation about someone silently looking all the activity, someone silently hiding in somewhere. Therefore, when I know the existence of Chu, everything made sense. After Chu appears, there are still many scenes from top view, some of them maybe come from Chu’s view, some of them maybe just objective view. But I like it. I like the mix feeling when I wonder the scene come from whose view. I also noticed that sometime the top view scene was simply the way she opened or ended a scene.

There are some scenes in the film make me remind of Tran Anh Hung’s style. I noticed that Hong Anh usually opened a scene by a tracking shot follows the character and she didn’t change shots much in a scene, everything is in its slow pace.

Ex: the dolly shot from the window of the restaurant to the wife sitting in front of the door when there is nearly no diners, the scene when the wife cleans the floor and her husband helps her, etc…

I also noticed that Hong Anh used long shot, medium shot, medium close-up shot more than close-up shot and extreme close-up shot. But because she limit close-up as much as possible (It’s just my feeling, I can’t ensure it. Maybe she used long shot, medium shot and close-up shot with the same quantity), when the close-up shots appear, it really makes effect. I really like the close-up scene when she showed the audience the image of the dead cockroach, the ants crawling around its body, the dried leaves fragmenting everywhere. There are the images of the death. They made me feel the tiredness of the character and reminded me of what he said, he said that he didn’t want to be like a cockroach while striving for life. This scene combined with the music and the previous scene made me feel the sorrow of the fall-down, the daze when something abruptly didn’t move in its normal way anymore. Because, the previous scene is somehow the funny scene that the Khmer and Phuoc ran with the goat tied with the can. It absolutely contrasts with the following scene showed the image of dead cockroach.

I also like the way Hong Anh inserted some fall-down scenes of the restaurant at the current with the scene in main flow story. From the beginning of the film, she showed the audience the ruined restaurant, the audience knew about its ending but when they nearly forget about it, she reminded them again about that truth. It’s just like the fall-down is not only in the end, maybe it started right at the beginning or somewhere in the middle when everything seemed to be rising up. The melancholy, the tiredness, the rotten atmosphere are full in that house.

I like the way she used sound at some scenes in this film. Just as I said, I like the opening scene but there are still other scenes that I like. First, the scene that Phuoc tried to imitate the chicken. At first, he made a loud sound and they were afraid of being heard. Therefore, Phuoc had to make it in silence. It’s really cute scene just like romantic scenes in Korean film. Second, the scene that Phuoc and Chu made love for the first time. No need to use their breath, their groan, etc… with the image and the music, I can still their delight when being together at that night. Third, the scene that Chu throw two bird statues through the window. I waited for the broken sound when the two bird statues touching the earth. But there’s no sound like that. The sound is only in the audience’s mind if they want any sound something of the kind. This scene makes me remind of the scene in Tony Takitani by Jun Ichikawa. In that movie, there’s also the scene that Tony drop the plate on the floor, the audience can see it broken but they can’t hear its sound. It foreshadows the gloomy future of Tony. But in her film, this method has a different effect and meaning. She doesn’t show the audience the image of two broken bird statues, the audience just see Chu throwing them through the window, then she cut to blue sky and it touched me, made me somehow understand Chu and feel sorry for her. In her thought, the two bird statues that she threw through the window can really fly, they were not broken, they flew to the sky, they were free. She also wanted to be free just like those two birds in her mind but she couldn’t release herself, bring freedom to herself. She died in confinement and maybe, her mother too.

I like the music made by Nguyen Manh Duy Linh too. At first, the music piece has only the piano sound (I’m not sure, maybe it’s the sound I can hear most clearly) with few notes and much empty space between notes just like it’s scattering in the air, vaguely invite the audience to discover something. Then, gradually the range of the sound in the music is widen with more notes, more instrumental. To me, the music fit the film’s atmosphere well. It accompanies with the progress of the story.

About the character, I really like the wife performed by Ngoc Hiep. She doesn’t appear much but she leaves strong impresssion to me at some scenes. She performed the unhappy wife, the gentle mother successfully. Her laugh without fear when her husband found out her sceret made me stunned. I also like the way she ended this scene with the image her hand grabbing the knife. I thought that she would have the strength to pull up the knife, to fight against her husband, to stab him. But the scene ended with the close-up to show her bleeding hand holding the knife that still standing steadily. That image seemed to say that she wanted to make a revolution but her revolution failed; at the end, she was still the only one who got hurt. One of the things that I remember most about her is the image she hanging the red lanterns in front of the main door. As I remember, there are two times that scene appears. One when everything seems to be still okay, the restaurant is still full of diners; one when there is coming storm, no one comes to the restaurant, she looks sad. The second one made me feel pity for her. At first, I didn’t consider too much about her hanging the red lanterns every night. But when the sccene repeats the second time at the nearly end with storm coming, with more leaves, less diners, with the medium close-up to see she shivering by cold, I feel sad somehow. The red lanterns also reminded me of Raise the Red Lantern by Zhang Yi Mou.

I also like the way Hong Anh excluded some scenes to shorten the progress of the story.

Ex: She just showed the audience the scene that Phuoc climbed up the roof and watched Chu; then, the next time the audience could see they were somehow fairly intimate with each other. There is no scene for their first greeting, for some basic questions just like asking names or something of the kind. I think that it’s a good choice.

And also she doesn’t show the audience the maybe important scene at the end: the scene to show how Chu died, or how her father killed her. The audience just hear the scream of her mother. And then, we see that terrific scene. Finally, we see her dead face. I really like that. When we can’t see the whole progress, we have the surprised feeling, we startle because we don’t what happened and what is going on. We can just see the result. It somehow makes me reminds of how life operates. We usually notice something important to us when it’s too late, when we lost it. This scene is also the same like that. Everyone realized their problems too late and finally, they lost what important to them.

3:43 am

Đọc bài review tiếng Việt của phim ở đây.


7 thoughts on “The Way Station

  1. Thank you for sharing your thoughts on this movie. I was in great joy when reading your review because you’re the only that noticed the same things as I did but did a further step by pointing them out via words. Have you taken any courses in film studies?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much for spending your precious time reading my review. Yes, I have taken a few courses in film studies, I also read some cinema books, then I write reviews based on those knowledges.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I’m glad to know there are places in Vietnam where people can acquire formal training in film studies. By the way I’m a self-taught film enthusiast. It’s very nice of you to respond to all my questions. 😀

        Liked by 1 person

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