I haven’t seen a lot of Vietnamese cinema, but the films that I have seen seem to share a thing in common, which is that they are films that you “feel” as opposed to them being particularly plot driven. They are also incredibly sensual and due to the climate and the heat, everyone seems to be constantly sweating or bathing. These are usually beautiful images, with the images of wet bodies (either from perspiration or water) being particularly striking.
This film is about a young boy named Bi, who lives with his mother and father, aunt (who is unmarried) and their maid all under the same roof. One day they get word that Bi’s grandfather (his father’s father) is returning home to Vietnam after living abroad for years. When he returns, he does so laid out on a stretcher, much to the surprise of the family, and they soon realize that the old man is very sick and has returned home to die. The arrival of the grandfather results in a shift in the family dynamics which we follow throughout the film. The husband has trouble being in the house with his ailing father and as such, continues to stay out at night, drinking with friends and eventually begins an affair with a masseuse.
Bi’s aunt is in the process of being set-up with a man that she doesn’t know to be married, but finds herself increasingly attracted to one of her students. Meanwhile the wife finds it harder and harder to cope with life with her husband absent and having to look after her sick father in law. Bi, being a kid, seems unaffected by the changes and continues doing kid things, while the dying man seems to enjoy spending time with his grandson.
This film is both strikingly beautiful and equally frustrating. I really enjoyed the first hour of the film but I started to lose interest near the end because I felt like the filmmakers themselves weren’t really sure how to end the film. There are also scenes that just go nowhere and thus seem entirely pointless. Also the title of the film is just strange because not once is Bi ever scared throughout this film (maybe the title is lost in translation).
I believe that “Bi, Don’t Be Afraid” is a well performed film and I found the relationship between Bi and his grandfather particularly beautiful and well done. The sustained tension between the husband and his father was also palpable, even though it is never expanded on. It is obvious something has happened between the two of them though. Surprisingly for a Vietnamese film it was quite sexually graphic and was full of nudity. It also has a scene where a character uses an ice-cube for quite an inventive purpose.
Overall, I liked this film, but it didn’t soar for me. I also found the final shot of the film and its meaning to be particularly puzzling.