An artsy portrait of contempo Vietnamese alienation, “Bi, Don’t Be Afraid!” is blocked by its own cinematic intentions from finding an emotional core. Debuting filmmaker Phan Dang Di’s murky narrative, about a Hanoi family whose disparate lives are darkened by the return of a dying grandfather, dispatches an unsettling mix of symbolic imagery, urban realism and creepy sex. But while some late dramatic gravitas partially redeems what preceded it, the overuse of water-related motifs and heavyhanded Asian angst plays out like faux Tsai Ming-liang in search of authenticity. Fests won’t be afraid to program this Critics’ Week competitor.
Playful 6-year-old Bi (Phan Tranh Minh) likes to hang out around an ice factory (pic’s strongest setpiece), but otherwise he’s stuck at home with his subservient mom (Nguyen Thi Kieu Trinh), his mostly absentee, alcoholic dad (Nguyen Ha Phong), and an aunt (Hoa Thuy) who fantasizes about her student (Le Huynh Anh) with the help of, uh, an ice cube. If the grandfather’s (Tran Tien) presence somewhat anchors the story, it’s not enough to carry a film that strives too hard for arthouse recognition. Red One lensing provides gritty, neon-lit urban visuals.