Berlin – Having returned to the Berlinale after three years of absence, the first couple of days were chaotic! Trying to find my way around Berlin, cope with the low temperatures and recall the never-ending queues for public screenings tickets in the Arkaden mall, can be very frustrating
However just a quick stroll in the glimmering and festive Potzdamer Platz, turns your mood around immediately. And overcoming the initial disappointment of the opening night sold out, I managed to sneak in the Panorama premier of 2014 at the very last-minute. And what a remarkable visual treat was that opening film from Vietnam!
Nuoc is set in the nearby future, where southern Vietnam is flooded by the rise of the water level due to environmental issues, and we follow the life of Thi and Sao, a young married couple living in a boat, just above what used to be their land. When Thi is found dead, Sao begins to investigate his death, which reveals a corporate scandal that involves Sao’s ex lover, Gianc and Thi’s brother, Thuy. Time runs out as the storm is closing in.
Set as part romantic love story, part sci-fi thriller and part apocalyptic drama, its very low tension does not give justice to the film. However what it lacks in action, it sure does gain in the extraordinary cinematography of Bao Nguyen. Beautifully shot in the watery landscapes of Southern Vietnam, the film is enhanced by outstanding under water sequences which you will remember for a while.
Strong political messages regarding the rapidly climatic change and its devastating consequences, cannot not be found in Nuoc. But the daily struggle for survival, the permanent presence of threat and the mundane life of the villagers delivers the notion of a ominus future. And this feeling is enhanced when you contrast the present miserable existence of Sao, Thi and Giang to their unperturbed life in the flashback sequences. In the most characteristic of them, Sao meets Giang, and he rumbles about the fugacity of Sao’s book collection, as soon all of these will be covered in water, only to receive her cordially reply: “Then the fish will read my books”! Besides – according to the director Min Nguyen Vo – subtle messages can come across much better that open political confrontation.
The film has been cleared by censorship in Vietnam, but considering its low tempo, lack of coherence and aggravating subject, it is not likely to get wide distribution, hence it has to be content within the festival circuit to reach audiences around the world.