INSIDE THE YELLOW COCOON SHELL (currently playing at the Gene Siskel Film Center)

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Once again, I discover that the best movie of 2023 is one that I couldn’t see in 2023. It’s a first feature by a Vietnamese writer-director, Phạm Thiên Ân. It won the camera d’or in Cannes, and is so stunningly original that that it seems to have reinvented cinema on its own terms. At the same time, it illustrates Robert Bresson’s maxim that it took the advent of sound cinema to give us silence while demonstrating Raoul Ruiz’s contention that drama doesn’t have to be based on conflict. As the film’s title suggests, the struggle (or journey) of the young hero (Lê Phong Vũ) is internal, so it seems natural that his dreams and memories are often indistinguishable from his other activities.

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A three-hour film that feels like a meditative bath without ever becoming in the least bit dull, Inside the Yellow Cocoon Shell proposes a psychic adventure in which butterflies are able to blossom, like the baby wrapped in a yellow blanket that the hero holds, and like the hero himself when he lies down in a stream.

If the above description sounds pretentious, the fault is mine, not the film’s. The best films often turn out to be the ones that challenge whatever we might want to say about them. [1/27/2024]

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