Saturday, October 10, 2009

Venice Reviews: Choi voi (Adrift)

Choi voi (Adrift)
Directed by Chuyên Bui Thac
Starring: Do Thi Hai Yen, Nguyen Duy Khoa, Linh Dan Pham, Johnny Nguyen
Grade: B+

The promotional material for Adrift features two naked women underneath a sheet, and all the information I'd heard about it prior to the Venice viewing was that it was distinctly 'sexual'. This turned out to be misleading, and the inaccuracy of my expectations became divided between cynicism and guilt. Is it wrong to accentuate areas of a film in order to sell it? Is it wrong to assume that a film with a poster featuring naked women necessarily means overt lesbian sexuality?

In the end, this dilemna is summarised well by the film's married couple, who each think they're getting something different from the other. Separated by five years (the woman is 24, the man is 19) they are married by arrangement, but it soon becomes clear that the man is still entrenched in adolescence and only really interested in being "looked after", and the woman is craving affection and unable to get it. This is the cue for sexual exploration, and Adrift is essentially the story of how each partner reacts to the deadening state of their non-event marriage.

Having already divulged that their main problem is age and maturity, Adrift takes a rather roundabout route in detailing its characters' decisions to pursue the most natural course of action that you'd have wagered on anyway. Refreshingly, the film is written with such an understanding of male and female sexuality, rather like Kubrick's final hurrah (and my favourite of His films) Eyes Wide Shut, in that it recognises that attraction and infidelity emerge from assurance -- advice itself matters far less than the person giving the advice. Dangerous Liaisons-style, the wife (Do Thi Hai Yen) is manipulated into a sexual relationship with a womaniser by his own on/off flame (Linh Dan Pham in an astoundingly effective performance), who in turn harbours feelings for the torn wife.

Every time the film seems to make an easy assessment about a character it forces us to challenge that assessment, and manages to create a network of genuine, interesting people that 'fail' through being too true to themselves. Adrift has a rather cavalier, if far from revelatory message that upset is the natural product of looking after one's own needs (whether that be sexual gratification, security, forbidden love) and emerges as a solemn, resigned meditation on arranged marriage. It's a beautifully-made tragedy, and the biggest critique of promise rings and age-gap relationships you're likely to see this year.

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