This week’s screening at the San Francisco Alliance Française comes from award-winning Vietnamese-born French director and writer, Tran Anh Hung. The Vertical Ray of the Sun (À la verticale de l’été) was screened at the 2000 Cannes Film Festival in the Un Certain Regard category.
Set in Hanoi during a Vietnamese summer, the film tells of three sisters who are preparing to observe the anniversary of their parents’ passing, but each has an anxiety about her relationship with the man in her life. Two of the girls are – apparently – happily married, but the youngest is still single, and living with her brother, with whom she’s hopelessly in love.
Of the two married sisters, one has a husband – who has another woman and child in his life, and whom he loves as much as his wife. Despite this – and subject to certain conditions – she carries on with the marriage. The other sister and her husband are thrilled to discover that she’s pregnant and – although he’s tempted to stray – he remains loyal to her.
A slow-paced, family saga, The Vertical Ray of the Sun was described in Newsweek as “a shimmering, tactile experience”, while The Los Angeles Times wrote of it as “A wholly enveloping experience. Gentle, ravishingly beautiful and awash in everyday sensuality”.
Director and writer Tran Anh Hung is also known for three previous award-winning films. For The Scent of Green Papaya he won two awards at the 1993 Cannes Film Festival, a 1994 Cesar, and was nominated for an Oscar for the best foreign-language film that same year. His 1995 film Cyclo won a Golden Lion and the FIPRESCI Prize (International Federation of Film Critics) at the Venice Film Festival that year, and Norwegian Wood was nominated for a Golden Lion at the 2010 Venice Film Festival.
The Vertical Ray of the Sun was filmed in and around Hanoi with a multi-national crew – the director of photography, Mark Lee Ping-Bin is from Taiwan – and in an online interview, Tran spoke of his goal in making a family saga with a very personal emphasis. He wanted “to reveal the problems of couples – the problems of desire and unfaithfulness”, but to use this to mirror the distinct aspects of the Vietnamese culture. “I wanted the viewer to feel the environment of the culture, which is Confucianism. And in Confucianism, what is important is the search for harmony. And I wanted the viewer to feel the harmony beyond the problems.”
The Vertical Ray of the Sun will be screened in Vietnamese with English subtitles at the Alliance Française, 1345 Bush Street at 7.00 pm. Admission is free, but a $5 donation is suggested. The film has a PG-13 rating.