Inside the golden cocoon (International title: Inside the Yellow Cocoon Shell) attracted attention as the only representative of Vietnamese cinema to participate in the 2023 Cannes Film Festival. The work surpassed many heavyweights to win the Caméra d’Or (Golden Camera) – category for the best debut films.
After 3 months, the film was brought back to Vietnam by the publisher to serve domestic audiences. This is also the first art-house work (art film) to hit theaters this year, after a series of purely commercial projects.
Journey to find faith
The film’s story revolves around the journey of Thien (Le Phong Vu) – an unmarried young man, without a stable job, who is losing faith in the reason for living and experiencing a series of bewildered and uncertain days on the road of life.
One evening, Thien suddenly received news that his sister-in-law had just died after a motorbike accident. He suddenly became the only relative to take care of his 5-year-old grandson named Dao (Nguyen Thinh) because his father had left home a long time ago.
While I still don’t know my mother’s death, Thien has to find a way to bring her sister-in-law’s coffin back to her hometown and organize a funeral. After that, the character is determined to find his brother so that Dao has a chance to meet his father.
The work is the first feature-length film of Pham Thien An – a director who has experience in making a number of short films before. The script was written by him, developed based on the short film Wake up and get ready ( Stay Awake, Be Ready ) released in 2019.
With a duration of more than 3 hours, Pham Thien An integrates many messages about existentialism. Right from the beginning of the movie, Thien sat drinking and talking with his friends about the purpose of life. Along the way, he also met and talked with many characters about existence and the meaning of human life.
Religious elements are also purposefully planted. Church scenes, nuns, prayer scenes or dialogues about God are used a lot in the film. All turned Thien’s trip to find his loved ones into a journey of finding his self, regaining his lost faith.
The beauty of slowness
The biggest bright spot of Inside the golden cocoon is the image part. The director makes good use of the context to create movies that are aesthetically pleasing, sometimes realistic and sometimes dreamy.
Through Thien’s journey, Pham Thien An leads viewers from the bustling scene of Ho Chi Minh City to the peaceful highlands of Bao Loc – also the director’s hometown.
His style is reminiscent of famous slow cinema directors such as Béla Tarr, Andrei Tarkovsky, Abbas Kiarostami, etc.
Filmmakers prefer long takes, single shots, and limited editing. Most lenses are fixed, if moved, slowly so that each segment remains as realistic as possible.
With that style, the setting technique (mise en scène) becomes the key factor to help each scene achieve the intention that the director wants.
There is a scene up to 25 minutes long is a conversation between two characters sitting in the house. However, the director broke the way when he put the camera outside, only letting the audience see the wooden porch, not the actor’s face. There was also pitch blackness, no one could see anything.
When watching a movie, sometimes the audience will feel like they are enjoying a documentary work. But in fact, it is the result of a careful calculation and practice process before officially shooting.
Strange dishes but not sure delicious for Vietnamese audiences
Appearance Inside the golden cocoon memorize Memento Mori : Land (Directed by Marcus Manh Cuong Vu) premiered last year. Both are in the line of art-house picky audiences. The content raises many questions about life and death, integrating elements of faith and religion.
Coincidentally, the directors interweave real and virtual scenes, combining everyday scenes with dreams to highlight the character’s inner self. Both have proven themselves to be avid fans of slow cinema with their slow shots and minimal cinematography.
But if Memento Mori : Land inspired by the book of author Dang Hoang Giang, Inside the golden cocoon was built based on the very personal feelings and experiences of director Pham Thien An.
With a duration of only 85 minutes, Memento Mori: Land failed to conquer the home audience. According to data from Box Office Vietnam (an independent box office observer), the work of director Marcus Manh Cuong Vu only earned more than VND 260,000 million. The social media effect is also unimpressive.
Thanks to the achievements from Cannes, Inside the golden cocoon received a lot of support from the media and filmmakers when it debuted at home. However, the length of 3 hours makes the film really hard to swallow for the mass audience.
The slow tempo becomes what makes the work stand out, separate from many fast-paced, fast-paced blockbusters. However, it is also a barrier that challenges the patience of viewers, especially those who do not like the slow cinema genre.
Pham Thien An’s success is to have built a very personal atmosphere, not mixed with any Vietnamese works. But for atheists, his work is somewhat ambiguous and difficult to feel. Even each piece of film appears just like a beautiful but lifeless picture.