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TIFF Review: The Third Wife – “Stunning visuals”

A 14-year old girl becomes the third wife of a wealthy landowner in 19th century rural Vietnam.

 An arranged marriage occurs between the teenage May (Nguyen Phuong Tra My) and a much older husband (Le Vu Long) who owns a vast estate and has two other wives in 19th century rural Vietnam; she learns that to improve her status within the household a son needs to be born.  The world is foreign and filled with new discoveries for May which causes her to grow-up quickly and learn about matters of life, death and forbidden love.

Nature, blood and water are prominent visuals in a coming of age story that has a leisurely pace.  The camera plays the role of observer much like May who slowly becomes more of a participant in the events taking place on the estate.  There is sexual sensuality to the painterly shots composed by cinematographer Chananun Chotrungroj as they provide intimate portraits of characters.  The colours are earthy and lush reflecting the richness of the setting.

Nguyen Phuong Tra My believably plays the role of a naïve bride who awakens to the restrictions and possibilities of her new life.  There are times that the caressing camera creates an unsettling perverted feeling which heightens the creepiness of the real-life situation.   The slow burn of the story written and directed by filmmaker Ash Mayfair mirrors the gradual emotional growth of the protagonist.  The minimalistic dialogue shifts the focus to the stunning visuals to propel the meditative narrative forward and make the viewer become a firsthand witness.

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Trevor Hogg is a freelance video editor and writer who currently resides in Canada; he can be found at LinkedIn.

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