The Vertical Ray of the Sun
dir. Tran Anh Hung
Opens Fri Sept 28 at the Egyptian.

I have no idea what this film is about. I watched the whole thing but could never recount its plot. Suffice it to say that there's a group of women (sisters?) who spend the most peaceful hours of the day cleaning dead birds as they gossip about indistinct things; and a group of men (brothers? husbands?) who look at photos of green plants as they whisper. There's a bedroom with billowing curtains, and a window that looks down a Hanoi street. Then there is light. Lots of soft light that breaks through the leaves in miracle shafts.

Ten minutes into this film, I gave up on the subtitles. The bright images on the screen washed them away, like words in sand washed away by a glittering tide. All I could see was the floating faces of the women, whose skin was remarkably fresh. This is the type of skin that moisturizers promise to promote: a skin that absorbs and contains all the water, so that sunlight is reflected from the smooth surface. No wrinkles in this world, just moisture. Maybe it's the earth-brown snails the women devour in the cafe that give their flesh such resilience and retention. Or maybe it's that green concoction of a drink they swallow with the rising and falling motion of their throats and breasts.

I also heard music in the film. Music that mingled with the sounds of live birds, bugs, and running water. There's Lou Reed's "Coney Island Baby," the Velvet Underground's "Pale Blue Eyes," and a fluid Vietnamese version of John Lennon's "Imagine." The music is as soft and as languid as the light that fills the room with the billowing curtains.

Here are some external facts about this movie: It's called The Vertical Ray of the Sun, directed by Parisian émigré Tran Anh Hung, who also made the colorful Cyclo and the terribly slow The Scent of Green Papaya. That said, I must mention once again the marvelous skin of the women in this film: It is so moist, so light, so clear--was it a dream I loved?

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