Three women living in a small village on the Mekong Delta struggle to contend with the men they’re bound up with in Glorious Ashes, a thoughtful if somewhat heavy-handed ensemble piece from Vietnamese writer-director Bui Thac Chuyen (Adrift).
Premiering in competition at Tokyo, the film provides an intriguing look at a part of the world where the old ways, whether in farming, fishing or wives being completely subjected to their husbands’ every last whim, still dominate daily life. But the two-hour drama never quite rises above its earnest and weighty message, which makes it more of a thoughtful pedagogical item than a movie with serious market potential.
The Bottom Line
A tender if trying drama of feminine strife.
Venue: Tokyo International Film Festival (Competition)
Cast: Le Cong Hoang, Bao Ngoc Doling, Phuong Anh Dao, Ngo Quang Tuan, Ngo Pham Hanh Thuy
Director, screenwriter: Bui Thac Chuyen
1 hour 57 minutes
This is not to say that Glorious Ashes isn’t, at least in its conception, a probing and rather dark depiction of the quotidian struggles faced by its trio of heroines, all of whom have to eke out a difficult rural existence while also dealing with a trio of extremely difficult men.
For Duong (Le Cong Hoang), this means remaining stuck in her marriage to Hau (Bao Ngoc Doling), a husband so distant that even when he occasionally returns home from his job as a fisherman on the delta, he barely says a word to her. The reason, as we learn early on, is that Hau is still madly in love with Nhan (Phuong Anh Dao), a childhood friend who lives only a few houses down the river and who is happily married to the ceramics worker, Tam (Ngo Quang Tuan).
Given that their village is so tiny that everyone knows everything about everyone else, with the characters constantly running into each other as they take care of various chores along the river, it’s hard to keep things hidden for long. Chuyen baits the viewer early on with a scene of Nhan’s house burning down, leaving us to believe that either Duong acted out of jealousy or Hau decided to do away with the Nahm for not loving him back. But the real reason turns out to be way more tragic, turning Tam into a deranged arsonist intent on destroying his own home as the town looks helplessly on.
A parallel storyline involves Loan (Ngo Pham Hanh Thuy), a woman who was raped as a child and whose assailant has been released from prison decades later. The ex-convict returns to the village and shacks up at a Buddhist monastery, leaving Loan thirsty for revenge against the man who ruined her life.
Chuyen, whose 2009 feature Adrift won a FIPRESCI prize in Venice, takes his time to weave the three stories together, synching his narrative to the languorous pace of life along the river. This can prove slow-going at times, although the setting of Glorious Ashes is almost a story in its own right: It’s fascinating to watch Duong and the others scrape by on the delta, with one foot forever in the Mekong’s muddy waters. Hau’s employment as a shrimp fisherman on a tiny isolated tower in the middle of the sea, surrounded by nets and empty water, could practically be the subject of a separate movie, and Chuyen returns several times to that location to underline Hau’s severe isolation.
These observant elements are often more fascinating than the drama itself, which is far from subtle in places and lumbers along without any major surprises. And yet Chuyen displays real compassion for his protagonists — especially Duong and Nahm, who drift closer together as they deal with family tragedy and a pair of useless husbands.
It’s telling that Nahm, who keeps rebuilding the house that Tam keeps burning down, and Duong, who awaits Hau’s return while knowing full well it won’t mean much for their dead marriage, refuse to fall into the same despair as their significant others. Despite all they face, and this includes death itself, the women in Glorious Ashes anchor everyone’s lives while the men can do nothing but drift away.
Source by www.hollywoodreporter.com