“Inside the Yellow Cocoon Shell” (“Bên trong vo kén vàng”)


Metacritic (7/10), Letterboxd (3.5/5), Imdb.com (7/10), TMDB.com (7/10)

Finding meaning and purpose in life can be a long and solitary journey, especially if one doesn’t know how or where to look. So it is for a single, lonely thirtysomething seeker (Le Phong Vu) living in Saigon after moving there from his rural mountain village after most of his family emigrates to America. He feels empty and lost as he looks for a suitable path to follow, but nothing turns up, leaving him increasingly adrift and unfulfilled. However, when a family tragedy occurs, he must return home to pay final respects to a deceased loved one with his young, orphaned nephew (Nguyen Thinh) in tow. The journey thus becomes a metaphor for his search, an absorbing meditation on life, love, death, finding oneself and letting go of old ghosts from the past, including an old flame (Nguyen Thi Truc Quynh) who now has a more serious commitment. This odyssey is fittingly depicted cinematically with a series of long tracking shots and deliberately slow pacing to emphasize the extended time it takes to make such a measured, thoughtful and revelatory passage, one beautifully enhanced by positively gorgeous cinematography. It’s the kind of film that gives similarly situated viewers much to think about, particularly given that they’re likely to relate to the circumstances of their on-screen counterpart. However, writer-director Thien An Pham’s debut film – winner of the 2023 Cannes Film Festival’s Golden Camera Award for best premiere feature – could benefit handsomely from some judicious editing, especially in the second half. While this release is definitely a feast for the eyes, some sequences nevertheless go on needlessly long and could have been cut by about 20-30 minutes to reduce its patience-trying three-hour runtime. This shortcoming aside, though, “Inside the Yellow Cocoon Shell” gives audiences a revealing look at the work of a gifted new talent with tremendous potential, one who successfully brings both beauty and inspiration to an insightful finished product. As trite as it may seem, finding our place in the cosmos rests more with the journey than the destination, as the protagonist discovers for himself, a realization many of us can no doubt relate to.