The picture is the only Vietnamese-language film at the festival this year, in the Directors’ Fortnight category.
“Ben Trong Vo Ken Vang” still cut. Photo courtesy of the film crew
It tells the story of Thien, who takes responsibility of accompanying his sister-in-law’s body to their hometown after she dies in an accident, and taking care of his newly orphaned nephew.
Soon, Thien finds himself seeking his long-lost brother too, and “reconnects” with his memories from the past.
The film was listed under Indiewire’s “Critic’s Pick” section. Critic Josh Slater-Williams said the film was “a spellbinding tale of the soul’s unfathomable desire for the otherworldly.”
He also praised cinematography, saying “living in the frame with Thien; the timing of the camera and character naturally intertwined.”
“Ben Trong Vo Ken Vang” film crew answer audience’s questions after Cannes premiere on May 24, 2023. Photo from Pham Thien An’s Facebook
Screen Daily writer Allan Hunter considered the film “a remarkable debut feature; provocative, absorbing and mysterious,” which features beautiful shots by Pham Thien An’s longtime cinematographer Dinh Duy Hung.
He also pointed out similarities between An and Thai director Apichatpong Weerasethakul, the only Southeast Asian filmmaker that had won the Palme d’Or, as both are interested in the themes of death, reincarnation, and beliefs.
The feature is likely to attract those who are interested in arthouse films, though some may be discouraged by its running time and pace, Hunter added.
The film’s producer Jeremy Chua told Variety: “Through poetic, yet vivid, expressionism of the Vietnamese landscapes and subconscious, this film is a metaphysical labyrinth of daily marvel and malaise, a contemporary contemplation of the conflict between chasing modern material desires and the soul’s inexplicable lust for the transcendental.”
An, 34, won a runner-up prize at the 2014 “48 Hour Film Project.”
In 2019, his seven-minute short one-take movie “Stay Awake, Be Ready” premiered at Cannes and won the Illy Prize for best short film.