(director/writer: Ash Mayfair; cinematographer: Chananun Chotrungroj; editor: Julie Beziau; music: Ton That An; cast: Nguyen Phuong Tra My (May), Tran Nu Yên-Khê (Ha), Mai Thu Huong Maya (Xuan), Nguyen Nhu Quynh (Ba Lao), Le Vu Long (Hung), Nguyen Thanh Tam (Son), Lam Thanh My (Lien), Mai Cat Vi (Nhan), Nguyen Hong Chuong (Ong Ba), Bui Trung Anh (Ong Van); Runtime: 96; MPAA Rating: R; producers: Tran Thi Bich Ngoc, Ash Mayfair; Film Movement; 2018-Vietnam-in Vietnamese with English subtitles)

“An art-house treat with sparse dialogue and aesthetics covering up the emotions.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

The directorial film debut for Vietnamese filmmaker Ash Mayfair, who divides her time between her homeland in Vietnam and NYC, is an art-house treat with sparse dialogue and aesthetics covering up the emotions. The lushly filmed delicate story tells of a 14-year-old, May (Nguyen Phuong Tra My), who because of an arranged marriage, becomes the third wife of the wealthy older landlord Hung (Le Vu Long), in 19th Century Vietnam.

The landowner, with three daughters, hopes for a second son he couldn’t get from his first wife Ha (Tran Nu Yen Khe) or second wife Xuan (Mai Thu Huong Maya). The landowner benefits from a twisted patriarchal system that allows him to treat women as inferiors and possessions.

The filmmaker is mainly interested in how the three women connect living under such a repressed society and all but ignores the landowner. With the innocent girl May pregnant, the other two wives mother and protect her, in the name of sisterhood.

Through May’s innocent eyes we observe how all the adults in the residence interact with each other. She observes with shock Xuan carrying on in secret a tabu affair with Ha’s son, Son (Nguyen Thanh Tam).

The sensitive portrayal of a restricted life for women on a rural farm is capably performed by the ensemble cast and is well-photographed, but was too tame to get me excited over its tightly drawn narrative. The tension builds from the contrasting beauty of the landscape compared to the unspoken inner tensions held in check by the captive women, who strive only in secret for some kind of happiness to make the best of their sad lot in life.