(Just watched yesterday. But I'm too lazy to write smt myself. Anyway, I would be thankful if anybody knows where to find the soundtrack)
A review: The Vertical Ray Of The Sun BY ROGER EBERT / September 14, 2001
by Laura Phipps
(indieWIRE/ 07.09.01) -- Vietnamese-born director Tran Anh Hung doesn't play around. His debut feature, 1993's "The Scent of Green Papaya" won the French Cfésar for best feature and garnered a foreign film Oscar nom in the States. Although the "Papaya" takes place in Viet Nam, it was shot entirely on a prepared sound stage in France, where Tran was educated after emigrating there at age twelve. He followed "Papaya" with 1995's "Cyclo," a violent portrait of a rickshaw driver that won the Golden Lion at the Venice Festival.
Tran downshifts a few gears for his latest feature, "The Vertical Ray of the Sun." Shot in Hanoi, this visually sumptuous piece examines the lives of three sisters who are struggling with issues of fidelity and longing in their own lives as they commemorate the anniversary of their mother's death. Suong (Nguyen Nhu Quynh), the oldest sister, is carrying on a silent love affair; middle sister Khanh (Le Khanh) suspects her husband of cheating; Lien (the director's wife, Tran Nu Yen-Khé), the youngest, seems more interested in her brother than the man she's dating. Seeped in vibrant tropical colors, exquisitely choreographed and languorously paced, "Vertical Ray"'s trump card is its playful sense of humor.
indieWIRE caught up with Tran on the road. The soft-spoken, hyper-articulate director spoke about his eclectic sources of inspiration, what sets his new work apart from Wong Kar-wai's, and his national identity (or lack thereof). A sign, perhaps, of his gently persuasive directorial power, he managed to bypass the translator and steer the interview into French. The translation follows.
indieWIRE: What was the inspiration for the film's title, and what does it mean?
Tran Ahn Hung: The difficulty with the title is that the title in French is not comprehensible in English, but gives only the ambiance. The French title is "A la Verticale de l'ffété" from a Japanese poem, and it doesn't say anything really, in reality. It is just a feeling of a certain vertical quality in summer, when the sun is very high in the sky, and there is a sense of heat. The English title was chosen by the distributor as the best thing for the film.
iW: The city of Hanoi inspired the film. Tell me more about that.
Tran: Effectively, it was Hanoi that suggested the idea of the film, because Hanoi possesses a rather particular quality, which is the heat, the slowness, and the formidable sensuality. In Hanoi, the insides of houses are very little, and people do certain activities normally done inside outside on the sidewalk. Under the communist system, there are little common water sources on the street which families share. So people go out in the street, to wash themselves, to wash their vegetables, to wash their clothes, and also to wash the children. So what happens is that when you walk down the street, at night when the light fades, there is a certain sensation of the sweetness of life. The smiles of women who wash themselves, things like that. It's truly very beautiful, very powerful and very sensual. There you go. That's why I made the film there.
iW: During the process of making the film, I've read that the actor's roles were inspired in part by the actors themselves.
Tran: Yes, that's right. I played a little bit with reality and fiction. Certain roles had similarities to the actors' lives. For example the oldest sister [Suong, played by Nguyen Nhu Quynh]: In her life she is an actress, of course, but she also works in a café, and her husband is a photographer. At first, I asked that we use the actor's real name, I wrote it that way in the script, but she preferred that I change her name, because she found that it bothered her. During filming, when a character called her by her real name, that made her get out of character. So I said, okay, you can choose your character's name, and she chose "Suong." There was one actress I wanted for the film, and she accepted but in the end refused, because the role was too close to her life, and Hanoi is too small a town.
iW: The actress who plays Lien [Tran Nu Yen-Kh&eadcute;] is your wife. The relationship with her brother is very interesting, very close. I wanted to ask if there was anything that served as the inspiration for that.
Tran: Oh no, she played a role, that is to say that it wasn't inspired by her real life; it was truly a character she played there. What interested me in this couple was to leave the possibility of incest as a game between brother and sister. It is more a game that she plays, because he is a little bit afraid of that. Very often in cinema, between brother and sister, it's like this: there's incest, and that's the main subject of the film. Or, there's no incest, and no one speaks about it. In life, there are things between these two states -- things are a little ambiguous. In the film, I wanted to create an ambiance like this, very light.
iW: The film has very powerful art direction, almost like a moving painting. It almost reminded me of Wong Kar-wai's "In the Mood for Love." Were the movies made at the same time, or were you inspired by that movie at all?
Tran: The film was made before "In the Mood for Love." Mark Lee Ping-Bin, who was the DP of this film, did
"In the Mood for Love" after this film. It's the same DP. In my film, the physical direction was very different from Wong Kar-wai. With Wong Kar-wai, it was more about the design. With my film, it's more something concrete, purely organic, if you like. That's the difference.
What characterizes the images I was looking for, was that an image must be very concrete, very physical, and that one feels the sensuality evident that the image brings. The images aren't there only to tell the story -- to show one image after another and make the story advance. They are there so the viewer physically feels something. The skin of the characters is very important. All the work with color on the walls, all the colors that surround the characters, must be there to exacerbate the physical feeling of their skin.
iW: Were the buildings and the interiors created specifically for the movie?
Tran: Yes, exactly. With my art director [Benoit Barouh], we worked with already-existing structures and re-organized everything. We re-did all the painting. We were inspired by two American painters, Mark Rothko and [Robert] Rauschenberg. Mark Rothko for the work with colors, and Rauschenberg for the organization of objects in the images.
iW: That's really interesting. I remember Rauschenberg has some paintings of tropical locations that resemble your movie a lot, now that I think of it.
Tran: Yes. I really like the disorder in Rauschenberg's paintings. We tried to create an organization of disorder in the images, placing objects in a certain manner, so that they are truly interesting.
iW: You were born in Viet Nam but you were educated in France. Where would you say is the balance between Viet Nam and France in this film?
Tran: I think it is difficult to respond to this question. Clearly, I am formed by the situation of my life. I've spent the longest part of my life in France. But the question of whether the film is more French or Vietnamese, it's not a good question. What interests me when I make films -- what makes the specificity of my films -- is that because I live in France, all the products of the rest of the world are accessible. I love American painting, I love German music, I love Japanese cinema and literature, I love Vietnamese contemporary literature and painting, and I love Italian cuisine. Therefore I'm made up of all of this, and my films reflect this more than the question of whether the film is more Vietnamese or French. Clearly, because the film takes place in Viet Nam, it's important that I think deeply about what is Viet Nam. And I did that, because if you ask, "Do I feel Vietnamese," I'd say, "Yes." I feel deeply Vietnamese.
iW: The film's soundtrack uses Western music, like Lou Reed, and also Asian-sounding music [composed by Trin Cong Son]. What made you decide to do this?
Tran: My film told the story of several couples' problems, their struggles with fidelity. But at the same time I wanted the viewer to feel the ambiance of this culture. Confucian culture -- the idea of harmony and unity -- is very very important for them. At the same time that I wanted to show problems, I wanted the viewer to sense a certain harmony that floats over the entire film. Therefore, there is a contradiction in the project. So I tried to find the equilibrium in the rhythm of the film. Even before writing the script, I already physically felt the rhythm and musicality of the film. And if I chose Lou Reed ["Pale Blue Eyes," "Coney Island Baby"] and Arab Strap ["Soaps"] and The Married Monk ["Tell Her Tell Her"] for the film, it's because these pieces of music have a long, progressive development that go perfectly with the rhythm that I wanted for the film. The use of American music is a way of acknowledging the presence of modernity in Viet Nam today. In Viet Nam, as you can see, especially in Hanoi, it's a very provincial city, where modernity has not yet imprinted its stresses and demands. It has not entered modernity, it's true. However, there are traces of modernity, like the portable telephone -- and American music.
iW: Are you working on a new film?
Tran: Yes, it's an American film, produced in France. It will not be a Hollywood film. It's adapted from a novel by Hans Anderson, and the title is "Night Dog." It takes place in Portland, Oregon. I'm in the process of writing. I would like to film in May, 2002. The film takes place in 1975 at the time Americans were evacuated from Viet Nam.