Film Review: Dreamy Eyes (2019)

 


Dreamy Eyes (2019) or Mắt biếc, directed by Victor Wu, is a poetic portrayal of childhood, and a love that spans through decades. The film tells the story of Ngan and Ha Lan, childhood friends from a village name Dodo, following them through the different stages of their lives. From children to adolescents to adults, the film is a coming of age film that portrays both the romanticised notion of childhood, and also the harsh realities of adulthood. Albeit cliché at times, the films makes up for it with breath-taking cinematography. With exquisite tenderness, Dreamy Eyes begins with images that are bathed in golden light, each picture perfect scene viewed through the lens of childlike wonder. 


The film’s portrayal of rural Vietnam is stunning, exploring the area with smooth tracking shots and incredible blocking. In one particular scene, we see the children run into a crowd of people, the camera follows them, immersing viewers into the excitement and energy of the festival. It is in the subsequent shot that a key feature of the film appears, its manipulation of filmic time. With a slowed down shot of a man breathing fire, the camera lingers on the image, prolonging it as if to remember. 


The manipulation of filmic time is a recurring motif within the film, and through the narration, viewers know that these are all memories that Ngan is looking back on. As the film unravels that we realise that this seemingly simple love story is more than it appears to be. With hints of the social realities of the time, we follow the two characters as they grow up and grow apart. 


As Ha Lan leaves the village for the city, she begins to change, making crude remarks at the marketplace in her hometown and in her appearance. Through the incredibly subtle yet effective body language, Ngan portrays the unease and confusion that conflicts with his feelings of love for her, or perhaps the person she used to be. 


However, with almost frustrating passivity, Ngan does not act on his feelings, neither does he attempt to change anything as Ha Lan slips further out of his grasp. It is when she is completely out of his reach that the mood changes; no longer is the image drenched in gold. Rather, it reflects the grim social realities of the time, and the abrupt yet inevitable transition into adulthood. 


As the film progresses, despite claims of his love for Ha Lan and keeping mementos of her with him, he moves back into the village while she stays behind in the city. Ngan then spends the second half of the film taking care of Ha Lan’s child, Tra Long. As Ha Lan’s screen time is relegated to her daughter for most of the second half, she begins to become more a memory than a person. And for a while, the film immerses you right back into its stunning cinematography of Dodo, almost erasing the hurt of the harshness of adulthood, but this too changes when Tra Long begins to harbour feelings for Ngan as a teenager. In an uncomfortable sequence, Tra Long attempts to kiss Ngan and he avoids, his eyes overflowing with feelings of shock and discomfort. It is only then, that the spell is broken, and Ngan finally leaves the village and the past behind. 


As if a drawn out coming of age film, Dreamy Eyes portrays a romanticised childhood and comfort of simpler times. Shot with a certain tenderness, the love Ngan has for all that is familiar comes through in the picture-perfect images of the film. As if trying to relive and revisit the past, the film lingers on these images through the lens of nostalgia. Rather than a typical love story it sets out to be, the film is a love letter to the past, a simple yearning for the old, familiar, and comfortable.


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Dreamy Eyes was Vietnam's official entry to the Oscar Best International Film award for 2021, and you may view the teaser trailer here.


Written by Joyce Ng

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