Adrift (Choi Voi)
At last year's Venice Film Festival, Adrift won the FIPRESCI (International Federation of Film Critics) Prize. With its lush scenery, layered characters, and startling soundtrack, it’s not hard to see why the film stood out to an international panel of jurors.
The film is in Vietnamese with English subtitles and is set in various Vietnamese locales, including Hanoi, Quang Ninh, and Hoi An. Jam-packed streets filled with tiny tuk-tuks and motorcycles are juxtaposed with lonely, gorgeous beach campfires at sunset. The sights and sounds of Vietnam play a large role in the film, but the characters and their ambiguous, conflicted emotions take center stage.
Our female protagonist Duyen (Do Thi Hai Yen) is a beautiful and happy newlywed. She admits to her friend Cam (Linh- Dan Pham) that she is content to have “settled” on a life that makes her happy. Cam is unable to hide the myriad of negative emotions that she feels in response to Duyen’s union with Hai (Duy Khoa Nguyen), a boyish cab driver. Cam’s physical expressions paired with her vague verbal musings make it hard for a viewer to discern the root of her negativity. Is it because she is ill? Jealous?
Tho (Johnny Tri Nguyen) is introduced when Duyen makes a delivery to him as a favor to Cam. The relationship that ensues between Tho and Duyen is chaotic, lovely, and not quite right. Likewise, Hai embarks on a friendship with a young neighbor that blurs the line between right and wrong, appropriate and inappropriate. In both cases, there is a power dynamic at play, in which the female has been or could be victimized by one or multiple men. Cam seems to be exempt from this rule, as her character straddles the continuum of masculinity and femininity.
If you are seeking clarity, tidy conclusions, or even an a-ha moment, Adrift may leave you disappointed. Feel like spending the afternoon in a rain-soaked relationship kaleidoscope? Then this is the film for you.