×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Film Review: ‘Flapping in the Middle of Nowhere’

Vietnamese helmer Diep Hoang Nguyen's sly, sensual, politically probing debut is a knocked-up drama with a difference.

With:
Thuy Anh Nguyen, Bao Son Tran, Hoang Ha, Thanh Duy Pham Tran. (Vietnamese dialogue)

Official Site: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt3973432/?ref_=ttfc_fc_tt

A gauchely translated English title does little justice to the refined sensuality and sly strangeness of “Flapping in the Middle of Nowhere,” an immediately distinctive feature-length debut for Vietnamese femme helmer Diep Hoang Nguyen. Though it’s steeped in a rich, particular cultural and spiritual milieu, there’s a universal feminist resonance to this story of a pregnant teen whose plans for an abortion are repeatedly obstructed by financial and romantic complications. Formally daring, politically probing and several tropical fever dreams removed from “Juno,” Diep’s unique take on a girl-in-trouble narrative made a strong critical impression at Venice and should continue to spread its wings on the international festival circuit. That mealy mouthful of a title, however, may be an apt description of its commercial prospects.

Leading Vietnamese auteur Tran Anh Hung is credited as a “special consultant” on “Flapping in the Middle of Nowhere,” and it’s not hard to imagine his own 1993 debut, “The Scent of Green Papaya,” as a formative influence on Diep. Her film is a comparably delicate examination of class and carnal coming-of-age, though its more bristly eroticism, lashed with sour humor, clearly points to the passing of a generation — while Diep, in turn, is preoccupied with the heightened, liberated sexual awareness of her country’s youth. Yet it’s a freedom that clashes harshly with the economic strictures curtailing the options and ambitions of 17-year-old protagonist Huyen (Thuy Anh Nguyen) and her contemporaries; the titular metaphor likens them to birds caught in mid-air.

Huyen has at least flown some distance, having left her rural village to pursue a college education in the Vietnamese capital of Hanoi. That her roommate Linh (Thanh Duy Pham Tran, resembling a spiky blend of ladyboy and Miley Cyrus) is a transgender hustler already points to the expansion of her sensibilities. Her own lovelife is less adventurous: Her deadbeat b.f., Tung (Hoang Ha), is a low-earning, debt-riddled municipal worker and amateur cockfighter who is less than delighted when Huyen announces that she’s pregnant with his child. They agree to pool their resources for an abortion, though shortly before the date of the operation, he takes off with the necessary funds. Desperate for cash, Huyen follows Linh into escort work and strikes up a tenderly obsessive bond with wealthy, pregnancy-fixated client Hoang (Bao Son Tran).

As their relationship develops, Huyen feels increasingly conflicted about her planned course of action, yet Diep’s script has little interest in schematic moral debate. Rather, it’s the young woman’s relationship to her own changing body and burgeoning sexual independence that galvanizes this somewhat oblique personal narrative. The right to her own life, with or without a child, is the assertion that spurs Huyen’s intimate odyssey, though there’s little fist-pumping going on here: Diep has crafted a simmering study of a Vietnam still stifled and even silenced by conservative imbalances in class, culture and gender. (Unsurprisingly, the pic was largely Euro-funded.) Performances are effective across the board, with Thuy deftly finding the necessary balance of vulnerability and inscrutability in a character that could easily be played with too much guile, or too little.

If Diep’s pacing slackens a little in a teasingly inconclusive final third, her grasp on the film’s alluringly opiate tone and varied aesthetic textures is impressively maintained to the end. Quang Minh Pham’s woozy lensing, with its deep blotches of shadow and seemingly water-soaked palette, is an invaluable ally in this regard, as is Pham Quang Vinh and Nam Dam Nguyen’s inventive production design.Remarkably resourceful location work is employed to underline the urban decay gnawing at the film’s chosen slice of Hanoi society from the outside in, but this is no stripped-down exercise in social realism. Huyen’s inner life is realized by way of startling abstract imagery that ranges from romantic mysticism to outright body horror: A dream sequence in which a deluge of slugs is expelled from her vagina might make David Cronenberg himself proudly queasy.

Film Review: 'Flapping in the Middle of Nowhere'

Reviewed at Venice Film Festival (Critics' Week), Sept. 2, 2014. (Also in Toronto Film Festival — Discovery; Busan Film Festival — A Window on Asian Cinema.) Running time: 103 MIN. (Original title: "Dap canh giua khong trung")

Production: (Vietnam-France-Germany-Norway) A VBlock Media, Cine-Sud Promotion, Film Farms, Filmallee production. (International sales: Premium Films, Paris.) Produced by Diep Hoang Nguyen, Thierry Lenouvel, Alan R. Milligan, David Lindner.

Crew: Directed, written by Diep Hoang Nguyen. Camera (color, widescreen), Quang Minh Pham; editor, Jacques Comets, Gustavo Vasco; music, Pierre Aviat; production designers, Pham Quang Vinh, Nam Dam Nguyen; costume designer, Diem Hong Nguyen; sound, Hoang Thu Thuy, Van Chung Nguyen, Hoang Anh, Nicolas D’halluin; re-recording mixer, Jean-Guy Veran; line producer, Thi Bich Thuy Nguyen; assistant directors, Do Nhu Trang, Le Lam Vien.

With: Thuy Anh Nguyen, Bao Son Tran, Hoang Ha, Thanh Duy Pham Tran. (Vietnamese dialogue)

More Film

  • Glass Movie

    Box Office: 'Glass' Shines Overseas With $48.5 Million Weekend

    After autobots and aquatic kings have dominated foreign markets over the past few weeks, a different kind of hero has risen to the top of box office charts. M. Night Shyamalan’s “Glass” is the new champ overseas, pulling in $48.5 million from international territories. The supernatural thriller, a sequel to 2000’s “Unbreakable” and 2016’s “Split,” debuted [...]

  • Yalitza Aparicio as Cleo, Marco Graf

    'Roma' and 'The Favourite' Lead London Critics' Circle Winners

    After ruling the U.S. critics’ award circuit, “Roma” continued its dominance on the other side of the pond, as the London Film Critics’ Circle announced its winners tonight. A week after landing seven BAFTA nominations, Alfonso Cuarón’s Mexico City memory piece landed film of the year and director of the year honors from the group [...]

  • M. Night Shyamalan Should Stop Writing

    The Big Twist M. Night Shyamalan Needs: He Should Stop Writing His Own Scripts (Column)

    Quick, name the greatest film by each of the following directors: Alfred Hitchcock, Steven Spielberg, David Lean, Robert Altman, Roman Polanski, Kathryn Bigelow, Jonathan Demme. Answers will vary (mine would be: “Psycho,” “Saving Private Ryan,” “Lawrence of Arabia,” “Nashville,” “Chinatown,” “The Hurt Locker,” “The Silence of the Lambs”), but whatever your taste, odds are that [...]

  • Andy Vajna Dead: 'Rambo' Producer and

    Andy Vajna, 'Rambo' Producer, Dies at 74

    Andy Vajna, executive producer of several “Rambo” films as well as “Total Recall” and several “Terminator” movies, died Sunday in Budapest after a long illness. He was 74. The Hungarian National Film Fund confirmed his death, calling him a “dominant figure in the Hungarian and international film industry” who was responsible for the development of [...]

  • Glass trailer

    Box Office: 'Glass' Dominates MLK Weekend With $47 Million

    M. Night Shyamalan’s “Glass” topped box office charts during the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, collecting $40 million over the weekend for a four-day sum of $47 million. If estimates hold, “Glass” will come in behind “American Sniper” ($107 million) and “Ride Along” ($48 million) as the third-best showing for both January and MLK holiday [...]

  • FICG Names Estrella Araiza As New

    Estrella Araiza To Head Up Guadalajara Intl Film Festival

    The Guadalajara Intl. Film Festival (FICG) has announced that Estrella Araiza, until now the festival’s head of industry and markets and director of the Guadalajara IntL. Film Festival in Los Angeles, has been promoted to the position of general director of the prominent Mexican festival. She replaces Ivan Trujillo, appointed director of TV UNAM. More [...]

  • 'St. Bernard Syndicate' Review: A Quietly

    Film Review: 'St. Bernard Syndicate'

    John C. Reilly and Steve Coogan may have received major award nominations this season for their fine work in “Stan & Ollie,” but there’s arguably a superior Laurel & Hardy tribute act to be found in the droll Danish comedy “St. Bernard Syndicate.” As a pair of bumbling losers who turn an already dubious business [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content