Director Siu Phạm reviews Trương Quế Chi’s short film Black Sun
High budgets do not guarantee good films, and the same goes for Lo-To-No budget ones. Certainly, Black Sun by Trương Quế Chi was made with very little to no money. Films like this, people usually refer to as “amateur films”. And they have a point. In the case of Black Sun, the film was made entirely by a 25 year old woman acting as screenwriter, director and producer accompanied only by one cameraman and two fellow actors. Thus, we don’t find any images of formalism, which are like a condition to synchronisation in the final step of every audiovisual art works. Instead, Black Sun suggests a new approach: bolder, purer and more poetic, which leaves the audience wavering and probably paves a new road for young Vietnamese filmmakers.
The true merits of Black Sun lie in its intense emotions, created with a limited budget and rich aesthetic and political and social content. No fancy background, just a dusty, deserted road and a typical terrace. No more, no less, Trương Quế Chi has turned this minimal film set into a piece of art. The audience can feel the constant presence of the camera throughout the film, which makes the metaphorical images become more obvious and shows off the exhaustion and confusion, without the need for words. The metaphorical images, though obvious, are far from urging, thanks to the use of dialogues from Nguyễn Huy Tưởng’s play. Her way of directing actors has created a respected space for emotions and thus prevents the story from having a dramatic atmosphere.
At first glance, the film seems to lack consistency: two characters in historical costumes borrowed from some dirt-cheap theatre, exchanging irrelevant conversations at an unfinished construction site, in the context of urbanism described as “building now, destroying soon”. However, alongside the poetic metaphors, the brave and exquisite choices of images and situations successfully depict the wandering of the characters. The wide shot of the male character sitting lonely on a heap of bricks, with a crane in the background, does a great job of portraying human confusion over the irrelevant changes around them.
The director has made some impressively great use of metaphorical dialogue in this film. Having two characters exchanging mediocre, monotonous and whispered verses from an unfinished historical play is quite a new and never-before-seen approach. One long continuous take takes the viewer from the outside to the inside of the apartment, through the kitchen, up the stairs to the terrace, past the TV which the family is watching, and finally to the scene of the main actress on a swing and the main actor smoking carelessly with the faraway city as the backdrop, and shows us a daily routine that we all accept without question.
Altogether, every aspect of the film seems to urge the two young characters to run away from an unknown catastrophe. This is also a call for motivation and consolation that the film would like to make. A film like no other (in a positive way) with such powerful content and visuals might open up a new approach for low budget and indie filmmakers in Vietnam.
Black Sun will be screened at Manzi on 4 May as part of a Yxineff film screening. The film will then participate in the International Competition of the Oberhausen International Short Film Festival on 6 May. It was also selected for Les Rencontres Internationales at Gaite Lyrique in Paris, the Creteil International Women’s Film Festival and Villeurbanne International Short Film Festival.
Hoi An, 14 April 2014.
About Siu Phạm: Born in Hanoi, Siu Phạm studied Art History and Film Critique at the University of Geneva. She has been working in contemporary theatre and making various documentaries with Jean Luc Mello. Her first feature film Here and There was selected in the New Current section of the Busan International Film Festival in 2011. Her second feature film Homostratus has just won Best Unique Vision at the Queens World Film Festival in New York.