Vinyan Movie Review
Ostensibly a mash-up of tsunami-inspired tragedy and Lord of the Flies-styled allegory, Vinyan opens with an Anglo couple, Paul (Rufus Sewell) and Jeanne (Emmanuelle Béart), living on the Thai coast and trying to get on with their lives six months after the tsunami swept their little boy away. Attending an art opening, they see a grainy film of Burmese children left to fend for themselves in abandoned jungle outposts and Jeanne sees her son among them. While the image is never clear (the child is hobbling away from the camera), Jeanne is convinced and immediately plunges into the Bangkok night, a riot of neon and prostitution, to find a human smuggler who can take her to where the film was shot. Led by Thaksin Gao (played by the affable and afroed Petch Osathanugrah), Paul and Jeanne sail into war -torn Burma to find the "white child" in the country's fog, mud, and forest. Of course, that's when things get bizarre, and the film spins out leisurely towards a mind-boggling conclusion.
To call Vinyan a horror film would be a mistake. Despite the premise, there is truly nothing otherworldly or fantastic about the events in the movie. At one point, seemingly just for the sake of justifying the title, Thanksin Gao mentions that vinyan are souls who cannot rest. This, however, really seems to have little bearing on the plot at hand. The abandoned children, while menacing (particularly when they glower, faces painted white, lips aquiver with red lipstick) aren't ghosts. Or vinyan. They're just kids left to natural forces, kids gone feral.
Oddly enough, it's the first 40 minutes of the film that feel the most awkward. Paul and Jeanne's nocturnal hunt for Thaksin Gao is engaging, but it's never developed nor believable. Where the film could have gone for a suspenseful Blow-Out styled investigation (maybe a montage of Paul closely examining the pixels of the film), Du Welz just pushes the mystery out of the way so he can get the cast into the jungle. It's as if the point was to push the actors into the mud, to have them railing at each other while they're tripping over tree stumps, rather than tell a coherent story. If you've ever wanted to see Emmanuelle Béart in a decaying dress, covered in mud, and pouting out her lips while delirious, this is your movie.
Like his previous feature Calvaire, Du Welz loves putting people in nasty, horrific, and beguiling circumstances. Rufus Sewell looks inordinately mad most of the time and sweats like a linebacker, while Béart, is simply bewildered. At least Petch Osathanugrah (a Thai pop musician) is having fun. The script is indeed a mess, but at least the film is beautiful to watch. Cinematographer Benoît Debie (Irreversible, Innocence) continues his winning streak. His work is magnificent here.
While most of the movie is aggravating in its "half-developed-ness" something must be said of the first two minutes and final five. Both of these sequences lift Vinyan into the realm of truly unforgettable imagery. The finale opens with a shot of bubbles rising and spinning, overdubbed with an almost elemental and rib-breaking scream that captures, as no traditional imagery could, the horror of the 2004 tsunami. And it doesn't give away much to mention that the final minutes of the movie involve Béart standing nude in a jungle clearing, the light hazy around her, the sun maybe just rising, while dozens of untamed children paw at her body. It's envelope-destroying stuff.
Too bad the other 85 minutes of the movie are so forgettable.