Director: Tran Anh Hung
Cast: Audrey Tautou, Melanie Laurent, Berenice Bejo, Jérémie Renier, Pierre Deladonchamps, Irène Jacob
Runtime: 1 hr 55 mins
Rating: PG13 (Brief Nudity)
Official Website: http://sgiff.com/browse-all-films/eternity/
Opening Day: 24 November 2016 (Singapore International Film Festival 2016)
Synopsis: At the end of the 19th century, young Valentine is betrothed to her beloved husband Jules. From that moment on, Valentine and her clan are buoyed by the currents of time through the cycles of life, birth and death, love and heartbreak.
Vietnamese born French director Tran Anh Hung’s latest work doesn’t have much of a plot, and the film manages to run for almost two hours. It is a piece of art about life, takes place over a century and introduces viewers to two generations of characters.
Based on the novel L' Elegance des veuves ("The Elegance of Widows") by Alice Ferney, the film begins in 19thcentury France, and audiences see how Valentine (a very solemn looking Audrey Tautou) grow up in a beautiful mansion, marry a good looking man and giving birth to more than half a dozen children. Alas, they begin dying (we suspect there’s a plague during that era), and the focus of the film shifts to her surviving son Henri (Jeremie Renier) and his wife Mathilde (Melanie Laurent). The couple have more children as the film progresses, and the story brings in another couple Charles (Pierre Deladonchamps) and Gabrielle (Berenice Bejo). People die, newborns come into the world – that basically sums up the rest of the film.
The film brings to mind Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life (2011). It is made up of countless gorgeously shot scenes (thanks to director of photography Mark Lee Ping Bing) which have no dialogue. These are merely moments of life, captured on camera in slow motion, and accompanied by a piano heavy soundtrack (Tran had wanted Radihead’s Jonny Greenwood to compose, but he wasn’t available due to scheduling conflicts and classical pieces that Tran were familiar with were used instead)
Viewers won’t be sure where the film is heading, and may become frustrated with the voiceovers which seem to point at nothing. But those familiar with Tran’s previous works (1993’s The Scent of Green Papaya, 1995’s Cyclo and 2010’s Norwegian Wood) will be able to appreciate what story he is trying to tell. Life is about people and the moments they create - when the film finally transits into a modern day setting, the message that this abstract concept called life is one huge tree of roots and branches comes clear.
Reviewed by John Li at the 27th Singapore International Film Festival