Three Seasons is a vision of modern-day Vietnam filtered through a veil of restrained sentimentality and seductively lush visuals. It has the sort of indirect approach to storytelling which, combined with a gaze that tends to linger over the strange appeal of nature, one might ascribe to an Asian sensibility. That would be a stretch since its 26-year-old writer-director, Tony Bui, emigrated from Vietnam when he was two years old, studied film at Loyola Marymount University and counts among his most formidable influences the late Russian director Andrei Tarkovsky.
But if Bui has responded to, and in his own way approximates, the painterly aspects of Tarkovsky’s films, he has rejected the Russian’s stringent pessimism. Instead he suggests, with a gentle touch, that good things will usually happen to the right people – not necessarily happy endings but reasons to hold onto hope.
The film follows four different characters whose stories touch without actually intertwining. Kien An (Nguyen Ngoc Hiep) is a young woman who has just begun a job harvesting white lotuses, which are to be sold in Ho Chi Minh City. Her days are spent sitting in a small boat on a placid lake surrounded by the floating, improbably gorgeous flowers and the many boats of her co-workers – picturesque, to say the least. Lording over the workers is the reclusive Teacher Dao (Tran Manh Cuong) and Kien An’s story involves her discovering the secrets of his sad seclusion.
Meanwhile, in the city, a cyclo driver – a cyclo is a rickshaw-like vehicle – shyly pursues a "high-class" prostitute, acting out a little drama of class and culture. The third story involves a little boy named Woody (Nguyen Huu Duoc) who makes a living selling sundries out of a suitcase. When his suitcase goes missing, he suspects an American GI who has befriended him stole it. The GI (Harvey Keitel) has returned to Vietnam after a 30-year absence in search of his daughter, his obsessive quest being story number four.
Despite this abundance of plot the film moves at a leisurely pace, is well acted – especially by Duong as the smitten cyclo driver – and is much too tasteful to give us melodramatic resolutions. Instead, some connections are made and others are bungled in a world of dazzling colors and abiding beauty.
Richard C. Walls writes about the arts for Metro Times. E-mail him at [email protected].