The Vertical Ray of the Sun

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It’s summer in Hanoi, and Vietnam is as lovely as ever. In fact, it’s as a lovely as a coffee-table book. The mood is languorous and composed, with a patina of implied import draped lightly over the scenery. This is the same poetic sense of place that writer-director Tran Anh Hung displayed in his debut feature, The Scent of Green Papaya (1993), but what seemed rich and sensual in that film seems rather static here. Hung is a director of rare visual acuity, but his elliptical approach to story-telling makes for a delicate narrative, one that can be swamped by the deep-dish lushness of his compositions.

Sun centers around three sisters: Soung, who is married to a photographer; Quoc, who is married to a novelist; and the youngest, Lien, who is unmarried and lives with her brother, Hai. The two sisters’ marriages are discreetly troubled. One senses that only an abiding lassitude prevents any real disruption from happening. Secrets drift to the surface. The actors proceed cautiously until the movie seems to become one long significant pause. A major discovery appears to be on the horizon, something that would show that their late mother’s marriage was not quite the perfect union that the three sisters had thought.

Even if one can synchronize oneself with Hung’s meditative bent here, the story is barely worth teasing out of its somnambulant setting. There’s no doubt that he’s a gifted director, but sometimes a large talent can be overbearing and he seems to have miscalculated as to how much weighty attention his slim family drama could take.

Showing exclusively at the Detroit Film Theatre (inside the DIA, 5200 Woodward, Detroit), Friday through Sunday. Call 313-833-3237.

Richard C. Walls writes about the arts for Metro Times. E-mail him at letters@metrotimes.com.

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