Saturday, July 22, 2006

Anh Hung Tran's Cyclo

Collective Chaos is doing an Asian Wave film fest this weekend. A repeat of all the movies would be screened next week. So, if you miss any, you can see them next weekend! That is a pretty neat thing to do.

Yesterday, I watched this movie by Viatnamese director Tran that deals with the lives of poor, lower class people living in the Ho Chi Minh City, the capital of Viatnam. The central character is an 18 year old boy who drives a Cyclo (a cycle rickshaw. the word is also used to describe the person who drives the cyclo) to earn a living. His father used to be a Cyclo too until he died an untimely death on the streets and left his son nothing. You see the hopelessness in the face of the individual who is illiterate, has not means of improving his social conditions, and is harassed daily at the hands of thugs.

When one says that people can improve their conditions just by working hard, they do not realise/hide the fact that a lot of things can go wrong for those living in the lower economic classes. Also, there is a greater chance of things going wrong for them. Nobody would give them a loan, let alone a credit card. So, when there is a money emergency, they have to take a loan from the loan sharks and if they cannot repay it, they are forced into doing a lot of things that they would not have wanted to do. The cyclo in the film has his cyclo stolen, the cyclo which he was renting from a woman with a mentally retarded child and with a criminal connection. He ends up becoming the foot soldier for the crimes perpetuated by the woman's henchmen.

The film then follows the stories of other characters in the film and does it in a way that there are no heros and no villains. It is full of sad characters who are forced into crimes by others just like them. We see that it is a vicious cycle that just does not seems impossible to break. The lower class people become the criminals who act according to unknowm masters who are most definitely higher class businessmen. We see the cyclo destroying grains stored in a warehouse and torch a particular shop which seems to indicate that the job was given by some rival businessmen or opportunistic businessmen who destroy grains to keep the prices of food items artificially high.

This film is, in general, a moody one following the minds of four principal characters. It follows their thoughts, the motives for their actions and the end they all reach.

What amazed me about the movie was the director's attention to detail. The apartment of one of the principal characters is not just a room with some articles spread around here and there but a reflection of his world, his character. The director fills the frame with so many extraneous things that do not seem important to the story but give the film a flavour that is hard to miss and at the same time, extremely powerful. There is one particular scene where Cyclo gets back to his hideout after escaping the policemen. He is covered in dirt and what looks to be sewage and we are taken so close to his mouth that we see insects crawling all over his face and mouth but yet there is an expression of satisfaction, relief, and happiness on his face that contrasts with your own feelings of aversion.

It is a movie that has love, loss, sadness, poverty, crime, anxiety, death, life and how all of these seemingly contrasting things coexist together in the streets of Ho Chi Min City.

In one final shot, the camera pans across the lives of the rich of the city and we see them swimming in their pools in the distance and you realise how cut off and distant they are from the lives of these people who form the base of the city.

A powerful and impressive film. One that ought to be watched...

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