Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Bi, Don't Be Afraid! (Bi, dung so!)

Bi, Don’t Be Afraid! (Bi, dung so!) (Director: Phan Dang Di): This debut feature from Vietnamese director Phan Dang Di has picked up some impressive awards, including a few at this year’s Cannes Film Festival. It’s the story of an extended family with six-year-old Bi at its centre. He lives with his parents and his mother’s unmarried sister, and near the beginning of the film they are joined by his paternal grandfather, who has returned gravely ill from many years spent abroad. No one seems to know where he’s been or what he’s been doing, and Bi’s father spends the rest of the film avoiding his own father. And the rest of his family, for that matter. Instead, he stays out late every night, drinking and flirting with a young masseuse.

As his parents’ marriage slowly disintegrates, Bi is busy discovering the world around him. He spends lots of time hanging around at the ice factory, where his older friend An works, and at the riverside where the wild grass grows. He develops a bond with his grandfather and enjoys the time he spends with his aunt.

Meanwhile, his aunt is burning with lust for one of the high school students she teaches. Everyone seems uncomfortable with her unmarried status, including her, so she goes along on a setup to meet a single man and even has sex with him. Nothing seems to shake her desire for the student, though.

This is a film with lots of mysteries, none of which are revealed. In one sense, this leaves room for the characters to act in unpredictable ways, but it also leads to some bafflement. Bi’s seeming unawareness of the implosion of his family is sad, unless you see it as evidence of the resilience of children.

The film is beautifully shot, and languidly paced, but in the end, the narrative left a few too many things left unsaid for me.

Bi, Don’t Be Afraid! is playing Thursday November 11 at 9:00pm at Innis Town Hall as part of the Toronto Reel Asian International Film Festival. Tickets are $12 and are available online and at the door.



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