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The Moon at the Bottom of the Well

Happiness proves illusory and ethnographic exotica rules supreme in the slow-moving French-Vietnamese meller "The Moon at the Bottom of the Well."

Happiness proves illusory and ethnographic exotica rules supreme in the slow-moving French-Vietnamese meller “The Moon at the Bottom of the Well.” With local mysticism providing pivotal plot points, pic appears intent on showing the “real” Vietnam, but its wide-eyed wonderment is more indicative of coin from Euro funding bodies than from narrative necessity. Fests looking for unusual Asian fare may want to look, but overall, pic is too dull to travel.

Childless, fastidious homemaker Hanh (Anh Hong) learns her school headmaster husband, Phoung (Cao de Hoang), keeps a wife and child in another village. Hanh departs for said village, only to find that pregnant Tham (Vy Thanh) has ongoing employment as concubine and surrogate mother. Arrangement is initially satisfactory all around, but the shifting power balance between the distaff protags forces Hanh to enlist a shaman. Helmer Vinh Son Nguyen’s docu-style approach to shaman sequences jars in juxtaposition with the rigidly arty direction of the central melodrama. Thesps seem lost within the schematic script’s long pauses and unable to emotionally dig into their characters. Strong lensing revels in splendid scenery, and other tech credits are above Vietnam’s average.

The Moon at the Bottom of the Well

Vietnam-France

  • Production: A Giai Phong Film Studio (Vietnam)/Alliance Films (France) production, in participation with Hubert Bals Foundation, Fonds Sud Cinema. (International sales: Alliance Films, Paris.) Produced by Thai Hoa Nguyen. Directed by Vinh Son Nguyen. Screenplay, Thuy Mai-Chau, Tho Tran.
  • Crew: Camera (color), Trinh Hoan Nguyen; editor, Doc Lap Phung; music, Bao Quoc; production designer, Phi Hai Ma. Reviewed at Pusan Film Festival (A Window on Asian Cinema), Oct. 8, 2008. Original title: Trang noi day gieng. Vietnamese dialogue. Running time: 121 MIN.
  • With: <b>With:</b> Anh Hong, Cao de Hoang, Vy Thanh.
  • Music By: