Film Review: Inside the Yellow Cocoon Shell | Under the Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
Saturday, December 9th, 2023  

Inside the Yellow Cocoon Shell

Studio: Kino Lorber
Director: Phạm Thiên Án

Oct 16, 2023 Web Exclusive
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Phạm Thiên Án’s Inside the Yellow Cocoon Shell is a sprawling, three-hour-long odyssey exploring what it means to live, to have faith, and to experience the natural world. The slow-burning feature won the Caméra d’Or (Best First Feature Film) award at this year’s Cannes Film Festival.

The film’s opening almost feels like it belongs to a separate movie. When we meet Thien (Le Phong Vu), he lives a somewhat solitary life in Saigon. He hangs out with friends, quietly observing their discussions of existential topics, and lives alone, editing videos for a living. One day, while getting a massage, his phone won’t stop ringing. After dodging multiple calls, he answers and discovers that his sister Hanh died in a motorcycle crash and that her son, Dao, survived. Hanh’s husband, Tam, is nowhere to be found. So, Thien decides to take Dao to the countryside to assist with his sister’s burial, give the child a new life and attempt to track Tam down. At this point, about 30 minutes in, the film’s title card appears.

Once Thien reaches the countryside, Inside the Yellow Cocoon Shell’s main narrative begins. As Thien attends the funeral proceedings for his sister, meets town residents and explores the natural world around him, he starts questioning his faith. In the film’s opening, Thien considers faith as an abstract concept. Throughout the film, though, conversations with strangers and replayed memories force him to reconsider what he believes and why. In theory, Thien may be looking for Tam, but he is also trying to find himself.

Inside the Yellow Cocoon Shell is purposeful in its aimlessness. The film is not only slow-burning; it is also extremely long. Expect to spend minutes dedicated to scenes of chickens fighting, motorcycles breaking down or conversations between Thien and the people he meets. Pham handles these sequences–their style, camerawork and duration–with such care, formality and precision that they never feel as long as they are. Instead, the stylistic decisions highlight the ambiguity associated with discovering life’s purpose. Throughout the film, Pham suggests that finding your faith comes from making sense of the elements occurring around you, rather than trying to find your place within those elements. The film’s slow-burning and sprawling narrative effectively communicates this idea by forcing audiences to be patient. The themes will reveal themselves if you let them unfurl first.

The film is also a striking meditation on the differences between urbanism and ruralism. While we technically only spend half an hour in Saigon, its effects on Thien are noticeable throughout the film as he reverts to his previous life in the countryside. Visually, it’s difficult not to compare the rainy streets of the Vietnamese capital to the sprawling landscapes that Thien walks through, where humans, plants and animals coexist. The sonic difference between the city’s hubbub and the countryside’s serenity is striking. Pham’s film may not reject urbanity directly, but this idea seeps into many of its themes. After all, Thien can only begin to think about his place in the world when he escapes the madness of the city and its manufactured landscapes.

Inside the Yellow Cocoon Shell is not for everyone. If audiences aren’t familiar with the conventions of slow cinema, this 177-minute film might not be the most effective introduction to the filmmaking style. But, for those who choose to sit it out and open themselves to the film’s ideas, a fascinating world awaits.

Author rating: 7.5/10

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Average reader rating: 2/10


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