An exceptional coming-of-age story from Nguyên Võ Nghiêm-Minh (Minh Nguyen-Vo per IMDb) which takes place in the flooded grass plains of a 1940s Vietnam. On this strange & difficult land mass, the sparse homes are set on stilts and the main family assets are water buffalo. But with the arrival of the flood season, the local grasslands are covered and the animals must journey off with young herders in a yearly search to find grazing land. That is, if rival herding gangs or corrupt government officials don’t get to them. We follow the son of one such family thru a five-year time span, with his story told in a lyrical, elliptical fashion that takes some getting used to. The plot points we expect to latch onto get a hop, skip & jump narrative treatment that flings us past anything we can fill in for ourselves. The social dynamics and customs of the time & place float as freely as the rising waters, but the quiet revelations of character & family history build up a lot of emotional force. And the beautiful look of the film (as well as its beautiful people) make the film easy to watch. Unlike their life and the choices they make to survive, which look impossibly hard.
DOUBLE-BILL/SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: A remarkable first film from Nguyen-Vo. Alas, it also appears to be his only film. Sad. (The DVD is part of the Global Film Initiative which highlights about a dozen international releases each year, with a track record far above the usual festival offerings.) The film also makes a useful Neo-Realist companion piece to LIFE OF PI/’12 which touches on many similar themes. Though it does that much-hyped film few favors, and does so with a budget that was probably less than the price of LIFE OF PI's lunch truck.