Lovely to look at but too drawn out, “Bride of Silence” is billed as the first Vietnamese movie to champion a feminist p.o.v. Co-helmers Doan Minh Phuong and Doan Thanh Nghia take full advantage of lush rural locations, and showcase the sensual beauty of thesp Truong Ngoc Anh as an Indochinese Hester Prynne ostracized by her village. Story follows her son’s journey of discovery, but flashback tran-sitions can be confusing, and just when her character breaks out, she practically drops off the radar. Though there are admirable elements, pic seems destined for fest screens and possible Euro cable play.
Seventeen-year-old Hien (Truong Huu Quy) grew up forbidden to ask questions about his long-missing mother. On his deathbed, his foster-father Tuy (Nguyen Manh Thang) begins to reveal her story, but before he’s able to finish, he dies. Hien embarks on a two-year odyssey to track down his two foster-uncles and anyone else who can tell him of the circumstances surrounding his birth, and his mother’s fate.
With each person encountered, pic jumps back in time to complete the story told previously, although not all the pieces fit. Beautiful Ly An (Anh) lives with her parents in a small village of potters, bound by a society that limits women’s freedom and self-expression. Stealing away from the village one evening, she later tells a friend “I just had to see something different.”
Exactly what she saw is never shown, but nine months later, she brings a son into the world and sends the village, as well as her parents, into a vindictive rage.
Ly An stands firm and refuses to name the father, taking refuge in a silent pride that will condemn her to a life of constant humiliation and send her child, Moses-like, down the river in a basket. Itinerant carpenter Tuy and his two brothers (Nguyen Anh Quan and Trin Mai Anh) rescue mom and baby during an opportune flash storm. All three men fall for the quietly seductive young mother, leading to an inevita-ble rupture.
Unfortunately, as each brother relates his own version of Ly An’s history, her personality recedes fur-ther into the background. Initially a strong-minded woman unwilling to yield up her pride, she dissolves into an unknowable object of lust whose own desires suddenly receive short shrift from the understated screenplay. That, plus poorly signaled flashbacks, make the running time drag, especially in last quarter.
Lensing, however, is a strong suit, with Mak Hoi Man’s unflashy camera capturing the lush green-gray vegetation along the riverside, contrasted with dominant terracotta colors in village scenes. Production designer Nguyen Minh Thanh lovingly recreates the 200-year-old rural locale, while music from East and West, including well-chosen excerpts from Bach, blend surprisingly well into the tropical atmosphere.