Reviewed by: Andrew Robertson

"This is not the despotic kingdom of Rambo but something worse, increasingly alien, a murky desperate Myanmar."

There is an overwhelming sense of noise in Vinyan. It roars through, a mass of audible distortion, a saturating effect. It is there even when it is not, a perceived echo that washes across and through the film.

The noise might be grief. It might be the souls of the violent dead, their ghosts - vinyan - battering against life. It might be the tsunami that took so many. It might even be nothing. If one listens to the void, beware, for the void listens also.

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This might be a fable. It's certainly a horror movie, but in the same way as Apocalypse Now or Don't Look Now. Those two films are referenced a lot in critical discussion of the film: sharing the central voyage up some nebulous stream, into madness, and beyond; also the central loss of a child, an integral desperation. There is also Antichrist.

Vinyan's gender politics might not be as drastic, but they still discomfit. Male writer, male director, in Rufus Sewell a stolid husband, and at the heart a woman wracked by grief, guilt, and something else. Emmanuelle Beart is brilliant, chasing a phantom of sorts.

In a grainy DVD shown at a charity function, Jeanne Belhmer glimpses her son, thought lost in the wave. A tow-headed child in a Manchester United shirt, he haunts her, wandering through cloudy streets, beckoning to her as time passes. Is he real? Phantom, hallucination? We don't - can't - know. As with Moon, both readings, maybe even more, might be true. The footage is of a river village in Burma, one of the many communities ravaged by the tsunami.

Director Fabrice Du Welz also writes what is only his second feature, his first English language release. Such as it is, with occasional subtitling, moments that transcend language. Mud-covered children, screaming, empty eyes, empty sex. He's assisted in scripting by David Greig who also assisted with Anthony LaPaglia's film The Architect; and Oliver Blackburn, who wrote (and directed) holiday disaster film Donkey Punch. The common thread is outsiders losing it, and Vinyan delivers in spades.

Sewell is good, an architect adrift after the wave, one of a vague circle of expatriates, a member of a set. Trapped by the memory of his son, his wife's grief, his own attempts to make sense of the world, he agrees to Jeanne's desperate pleas to go, to look for him. They hook up with a pirate, of sorts, the smuggler Thaksin Gao. He's played by Petch Osathanugrah, a debut role. He has a dapper line in seemingly tailored black, a shock of giant black hair atop his skeletal frame. He is a bad man, there is no doubt, despite his good works. In his isolated camp the Belhmers meet Kim again, the humanitarian worker whose charity brings the DVD to their attention. There is a tension with and around her, Julie Dreyfus is excellent in her few scenes, an attraction of sorts between her and Sewell brings with it any number of questions.

Then there is Burma. This is not the despotic kingdom of Rambo but something worse, increasingly alien, a murky desperate Myanmar. The Belhmers travel through landscapes that become increasingly wild. The journey is episodic, following the same kind of iterative descent as Apocalypse Now, Dante's circles. The figurative weight isn't as solid as Redux, but it's a different mythology. A beachside sequence where candle-bearing balloons are lofted in memory of those who have died violent deaths. The titular vinyan. Beart is given the chance to light one for her son, but demurs. Thaksin asks her to light one for him.

It's not the only moment that bears prophetic weight. At the beginning, the screen is dominated by the cast and crew's name in stark white lettering, Impact font burnt across the width of the frame. The screen falls to bubbles, white noise, yelling, sparks. It's dizzying, trumped only by the towering dolly shots around the temple. The moments where it goes into standard thriller territory are unsettling; the 'obligatory in the Eighties' strip-club scene is terrifying, it makes no sense. There's a Faustian weight to it, an ominous tone. The noise overwhelms, returning again and again, until it becomes the only element we can rely on. The noise is the signal. Chaos reigns, as the fox said.

Reviewed on: 11 Aug 2009
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A couple searching for their missing child find themselves in ever more desperate circumstances.
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Read more Vinyan reviews:

Keith Hennessey Brown ***

Director: Fabrice Du Welz

Starring: Emmanuelle Béart, Rufus Sewell, Julie Dreyfus

Year: 2008

Runtime: 95 minutes

Country: France, UK, Belgium


EIFF 2009

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If you like this, try:

Don't Look Now
White Lightnin'