The Vietnamese director Tran Anh Hung’s first two features, ”The Scent of Green Papaya” and ”Cyclo,” were partly inspired by the lives of his parents. The first, shot entirely on a soundstage in France, conjured an elusive dream of Saigon in the twilight of French colonial rule. The second, filmed in present-day Ho Chi Minh City, was a brutal, surreal nightmare of third-world urban life.
In his new film, ”The Vertical Ray of the Sun,” Mr. Hung moves north to Hanoi — a city whose pace of life seems languourous and stately — and examines, with Chekhovian decorum, the lives of three sisters whose parents have recently died. The film is an oblique, vaguely sorrowful study in domestic emotion, structured around the small eruptions of feeling — tenderness, anger, and joy — that punctuate the slow serenity of daily life.
Mr. Hung, working with the cinematographer Mark Lee Ping-Bin, who shot Wong Kar-wai’s gorgeous ”In the Mood for Love,” composes scenes of such delicate beauty that you almost want to climb into the frame. The dark greens and pale yellows of the city’s foliage and its sunlight have an almost tactile density, and when the scene periodically shifts to the countryside, the sudden widening of perspective and the altered quality of light produce a kind of awe. Read More »