Tuesday, April 14, 2009
My interest was piqued by Belgian director Fabrice Du Welz’s disturbing 2004 film Calvaire, so I was very excited to watch his latest work, Vinyan. Du Welz co-wrote Vinyan with Olly Blackburn (director and co-writer of Donkey Punch) and also directed the surreal film. Vinyan has a very different feel than Calvaire, but at the same time it utilizes the same stunning cinematography by Benoit Debie and carries with it a very dark tone. Vinyan is a decidedly more subdued affair and doesn’t quite have the punch that Calvaire has, but it does capture a very dark journey that ends in madness.
Six months after losing their young child to a tsunami, shell-shocked couple Jeanne (Emmanuelle Beart) and Paul (Rufus Sewell) see a documentary on orphaned children living in the jungles of Burma. Jeanne is startled to see who she believes is their son in the footage and convinces Paul to go on a dangerous odyssey to Burma to find their little boy. They enlist the help of sketchy Thaksin Gao (Petch Osathanugrah), some kind of pirate or trafficker, to cross the border into Burma by boat. As they enter the dark jungle, Paul believes that Gao is just milking them for all they are worth, but Jeanne is completely convinced that their child is still alive and won’t let anything or anyone get in her way to find him.
I can’t help but compare Vinyan to Joseph Conrad’s book Heart of Darkness. The characters of Jeanne and Paul are on the same type of journey into the “heart of darkness.” Vinyan has the same foreboding, dark and brooding tone as the book. Like the book, Vinyan becomes less about the destination of the characters and more about their journey there and how it changes them and makes them go mad.
Helping create and really sell this dark journey is Du Welz’s direction and especially cinematographer Benoit Debie’s use of shadows to create an other-worldly and ominous atmosphere. Every frame seems to drip with foreboding that keeps you on the edge of your seat.
Unfortunately, the same can’t be said of the story, which may put you to sleep in the middle of the film. I felt that the opening scenes were very strong and was intrigued when Paul and Jeanne first took off to find their son, but the middle of the film is dull (hmmm…sounds like the problem writer Blackburn also had with Donkey Punch!). Basically, we watch Paul and Jeanne move from village to village looking for their son, with Gao always promising that their son is at the next village (yet charging them more money to get them there). This repetition gets old fast. Luckily, the last part of the film makes up for it and a shocking finale will leave you speechless.
Also, you are never quite sure what is real and what is imagined. I’ll chalk it up to artistic license but some things are never explained and they ended up baffling me. I suppose it added to the surreal atmosphere of the film, but I wish things could have been a bit more concrete.
The thing about Vinyan is that it is more like a subtle, art film than a straight-up horror flick. Since it moves languidly up until the last quarter of the film, it is definitely not for everyone. It is a very visual and lush film, but really could have used some extra oomph or at least editing in the middle when the story starts to get bogged down.
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