Three Seasons

European  Premiere | Out Of Competition | PART 2 - A/B side VIBES. Greatest Hits from ‘80s & ‘90s


Guest star:
Tony BUI, director


When friends abroad ask me where they can see Three Seasons, I’ll point them to You- Tube. They’ll laugh, thinking I was joking. I wish I was.

Yet it is absurd, indeed, to know that an online link with the film in full is the most convenient way to access Tony Bui’s debut feature, one that became the first in Sundance’s history to win the Grand Jury and Audience awards. Amazon and eBay do carry DVDs of Three Seasons, though I hope you won’t grab a copy with English subtitles that become more imprecise and then altogether disappear. One is on my shelf right now.

“Maybe Three Seasons is better off forgotten?” I have caught myself thinking at times.

So many Vietnamese films are living that reality; war, scant care, and limited preservation efforts are among the causes. For a title to be a YouTube link, usually hazy and pixelated, may actually be a blessing. But I feel differently about Bui’s film, a feeling that might have stemmed from my refusal to believe that the film’s glorious birth is its first step toward a trivial legacy. After the U.S. decided to normalize relations with Vietnam, Bui, then at age 26, and company chose to tell a Vietnamese-centric story on real Vietnamese soil. After that, they picked the U.S. release date to be April 30, a day with much significance for the community. After all of that, I find that their efforts earn every right to be more than online links, or faulty discs.

The news about Three Seasons returning to Sundance, then, is my Christmas. It is as much a resolution upgrade as an extraordinary rescue. Now fulfilled are two promises: The first is that the story from the director and his brother Timothy Linh Bui – one about four lives encountering changes in Saigon – will be told with extra clarity, the second is the securing of what makes the city and its essences resonating will be firmer.

As multiple facets of the film shall address – character’s journeys, their words, Lisa Rinzler’s tranquil framing, Richard Horowitz’s alluring scoring, et al – Saigon is always shifting, and, by extension, Vietnam is perpetually amid the strongest currents of change. The rain drenching the street peddler Woody (Nguyễn Hữu Được) as he roams the alleyways or bumps into G.I. James (Harvey Keitel), for example, seems colder and weightier; at the time neon lights and colossal displays weren’t as trendy as today. Or the fragility in the kindnesses between cyclo driver Hải (late acting icon Đơn Dương, also the Bui brothers’ uncle) and escort Lan (Zoe Bui); relationships today offer more opportunities to check boxes than to discover. Or the earnest beauty that consistently surrounds lotus flower seller Kiến An (Ngọc Hiệp); the motions of life are leaving less and less room for us to detect it, let alone feeling compelled to preserve.

Don’t get me wrong, Three Seasons isn’t a depressing picture; as Bui has said, besides “dry” and “wet,” “hope” is one of the three seasons depicted. But I like to think the filmmaker did place a question mark behind each, and let uncertainty surface beneath assured frames. It’s because change doesn’t necessarily equate joy. “Upset” is one of its synonyms. But despite everything, and as shown at the end of Bui’s elegant expression and statement, only with changes do we grow – even continue. Even when change is a fog, we enter. On that note, as poetic as Three Seasons is and has been described, I also like to call it brave.

Nguyên Lê
Film director: Tony BUI
Year: 1999
Running time: 113'
Country: Vietnam
28/04 - 2:00 PM
Visionario, Via Asquini 33
28-04-2024 14:00 28-04-2024 15:53Europe/Rome Three Seasons Far East Film Festival Visionario, Via Asquini 33CEC Udine