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Three Hanoi sisters gather on the anniversary of the death of their mother: Lien (Tran Nu Yen-Khe), the youngest; her brother Hai (Ngo Quang Hai) who shares her apartment; Khan (Le Khanh), the middle sister; and Suong (Nguyen Nhu Quynh), the eldest. All three sisters are experiencing some strain in their personal relationships: Suong's photographer husband Quoc (Chu Hung) tends to be away from home for long periods; Khan has recently discovered that she is pregnant to her husband Kien (Tran Manh Cuong) a writer struggling to finish his first novel. As for the unmarried Lien, she has an unusually close relationship with her brother Hai, who shares her apartment, and fantasises about them becoming a couple.

Trying to sum up this lovely mood piece is a little like reviewing a soap bubble - you're afraid it'll burst if you come too close. Despite the numerous characters and incidents, there's not much real plot. Less important than what happens are the possibilities that remain ambiguous (like the dead mother's relationship with a man who may or may not have been her lover) or teasingly unfulfilled (like the intimations of incest between Lian and Hai). Focusing on family relationships and domestic rituals, Tran's camera roams freely over the details of a shallow, diffused, intimate space: he shoots a restaurant as though it were a rainforest, a vegetative environment extending indefinitely in all directions and shot through with multiple rays of light. In some ways I was reminded of Sofia Coppola's The Virgin Suicides, minus the morbid streak. There's the same gentle perversity, the hovering on the iridescent surface of events, the quasi-eroticised intimacy between sisters, and the reliance on pop music from the 70s (or late 60s) to set and maintain the elusive tone. The characters in both films, like the films themselves, have an opaque yet flirtatious quality - as if hinting at secrets they may not really possess.
Jake Wilson

Beautiful to look at, Vertical Ray of the Sun is a gentle film, filled with nuance, sensuality and colour. Distinctly Vietnamese in cultural flavour, yet universal in essence, Tran Anh Hungs reflections of a family and its life, relationships and rhythms is inspiring, although at times frustrating. The mood, the look, the ambience, the music, the silences, the performances all work wonderfully; in fact the film is meditative in many ways. For me the frustration is mainly to do with confusion in the script, which results in some monotony and uncertainty of outcomes. But it may well be that director Tran Anh Hungs intention is to highlight the monotony of daily lives, our daily tasks and the small things that fill much of our lives. Some critics confess they actually nodded off during the screening. I was mostly engaged; as a visual work, it is as fresh as a flower. Watching the waking up rituals from the foreign and intrusive buzz of the alarm to the calming stretching, reaching, bending exercising routine is positively contemplative. The resulting peace and tranquility makes that transition from sleep to waking appear quite wondrous. (It made me think of my own personal waking moments - by contrast mine seem far from wondrous, harsh rather than dreamlike!) I especially enjoyed the beauty of the film with its powerful silences and use of unusual music and sounds. Its as though there are two separate soundtracks music and natural sounds - like birds tweeting, water running, crickets humming and the sound from walking in the rain and simple daily tasks like washing hair and hands. Essentially a slice of life tale of three Vietnamese sisters who each harbour a secret, we become privy to the complexities that affect their lives and that of their families. Funny, sunny, playful and moving, Vertical Ray of the Sun is visual poetry, expressed deliberately and leisurely.
Louise Keller

Dotted with sublime scenes and moments of keen insight, Vertical Ray of the Sun is far from vertical or even perpendicular. Although it is linear in storytelling structure, the film manages to create confusion and loses its way. The subject matter is valid enough, but there is insufficient dramatic or dynamic interaction to generate interest. On the other hand, it could be that the film language is foreign to my Western eyes. Performances are excellent, as are the technical accomplishments, but the script should have been given more of a working over. The secrets of the siblings do not by themselves intrigue us, although Suongs story has great potential. The French love to film stories of affairs and infidelity, love leaving the tracks, and their involvement in this film (Lazennec, Canal + and Arte France Cinema) may have been triggered by the promise held out by the scripts premise. It is unlikely to generate passionate interest in Asian cinema, but it does confirm that Vietnamese born, French resident writer/director Tran Anh Hung (Scent of the Green Papaya, Cyclo) has talent.
Andrew L. Urban

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CAST: Tran Nu Yn-Kh, Nhu Quynh Nguyen, Le Khanh, Quang Hai Ngo

DIRECTOR: Tran Anh Hung

PRODUCER: Christoph Rossingnon

SCRIPT: Tran Anh Hung


EDITOR: Mario Battistel

MUSIC: Ton That Tiet


RUNNING TIME: 112 minutes


AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: September 27, 2001

VIDEO DISTRIBUTOR: Col TriStar Home Entertainment

VIDEO RELEASE: March 20, 2002

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