With a Good Build-up for a Complex Character, FOREVER IN HIATUS Leaves You Wanting More4 min readReading Time: 3 minutes
A washed up former pop star lives in exile pedaling a xich lo (bicycle taxi) aimlessly in the streets of Ho Chi Minh City, until a chance encounter with a 16-year-old girl brings back haunting memories for him.
Director: Andy Nguyen
Cast: Luigi Campi, Yen Ngoc Doan, Mi Minh, Thanh Cuong Nguyen
Language: Vietnamese and English with English subtitles
Runtime: 25 minutes
Review by Nadia Alang
This is one of those films that leaves you asking “That’s it?” Which is to say, it leaves you wanting more. Centred around a rich, white guy living in Ho Chi Minh, this short film leaves viewers with a good sense of Rico’s (Luigi Campi’s) character and an urge to find out where his story goes.
Character development is the backbone of every good film, and I think this short film executes this exceptionally, considering its runtime. This does compromise the flow of the story in some ways, in that there are pressing questions that do not get answered – Where did he come from and how did he get to this?
While for some this may reduce the film to a small, unfulfilling slice of a larger story, for me, viewing this was like watching a snippet of someone’s life. It felt real, precisely because Rico’s character development made him feel like a real person rather than a character of a film.
Luigi Campi’s acting is commendable considering how static and unassuming his character is – Rico is almost always seated or standing in one spot, he reacts more than he acts as though letting things take its course, playing the role of an outsider passively living in a place he cannot truly fit into.
We get a lot of shots where he’s cycling around alone, his white-ness sticking out like a sore thumb among the Vietnamese faces that are blurred out. He becomes the central focus even in these crowded shots. When he’s not cycling and picking up passengers, we get some prolonged shots of him chilling out or observing people on the streets. What’s truly impressive is how despite these stoic activities, we still get a good sense of the character which boils down to the acting as well as the editing.
Campi’s face has a default thoughtful expression, probably because his eyes are so huge and with that full-grown beard covering half his face, there’s not much else to look at. That said, his eyes convey a lot of Rico’s expressions – as a man of few words, Campi’s features and body language convey his amusement, anger and indifference, more so than the dialogue.
There is always this sense of distance evoked by the editing that overlaps Rico’s solo scenes with shots of him observing the streets – in one instance, he watches a mother scolding a child and upon noticing Rico, the mother pulls the child back into the house. At times it feels like we’re seeing Ho Chi Minh from the gaze of a typical white tourist. But scenes like this, where the locals ostracise him, effectively reverse this gaze – we are really seeing this white guy from the eyes of the Vietnamese locals.
As the logline goes, he meets a girl who peaks his interest. Thankfully, this doesn’t turn out to be anything cheesy. In fact, their relationship does not go far, serving only a brief runtime to develop his character further. Although their chemistry is clear, there is a distance maintained between them – the same that exists between him and the rest of the city. The framing evokes this in a similar way – shots of her are intercut with shots of him, but they never occupy the same frame. Rather, what we see of their time together is accompanied with slow-moving shots and a slow, old-school-vibe Vietnamese song to evoke a sense of romance that feels timeless even if for a short while.
Memorable characters in films would recall feature-length films and episodic shows – the continuity and duration gives leeway for character development. Here, we get a brief but deep insight into a single character. With minimal casting and good camera direction and editing, we get a lot of depth in Rico’s character.
I would have wanted to see more but the consistency of the distance evoked between him and his environment suggests that this is perhaps all there is to the story – that this white man will remain Forever in Hiatus.
Watch Forever in Hiatus here.