Five Flavours 2014 Review: Handsomely Shot 2030 Sinks Under The Weight Of Its Own Ambitions

Contributing Writer; Tokyo, Japan (@patrykczekaj)
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Five Flavours 2014 Review: Handsomely Shot 2030 Sinks Under The Weight Of Its Own Ambitions
Second time Vietnamese helmer Nguyen-Vo Nghiem-Minh makes a come back on the international festival circuit with 2030 (Nuoc), a film that conspicuously defies easy categorization by melding elements of a romantic triangle drama, murder mystery, and eco-conscious sci-fi thriller. Originally based on Nguyen Ngoc Tu's bestselling romantic short story Nuoc Nhu Nuoc Mat, 2030 attempts to add an intriguingly spine tingling and somewhat revelatory twist to the source material's genuinely affectionate scenario, but eventually sinks under the weight of its own grandeur and ambitious aspirations.

Setting the waterlogged apocalyptic picture in the not-so distant future (curiously, his 2004 award-winning debut Buffalo Boy takes place exactly 100 years earlier), Nghiem-Minh weaves an emotional yet fundamentally slight tale while contemplating on global warming and the disastrous effects that it might have on the earth and humanity. 

The director makes great use of the many breathtaking landscapes surrounding the coastal region of Southern Vietnam and, despite the miniscule budget, crafts a picture that looks absolutely stunning but nevertheless elicits fear due to the alarming realism hidden in the numerous aptly framed wide-angle shots.

Depicted as a desolate, inaccessible, spooky place where nature reigns over humans and thus tampers with their sense of morality, Southern Vietnam sometimes bears resemblance to the world presented in Terrence Malick's Tree of Life (but without all the pretentiousness). Making great use of the wonderful location, 2030 also tries to emphasize that humans are merely small elements of a much bigger picture. In turn, it's water that irrevocably becomes the central character of the story.

Through his amazingly penetrating lens, Nghiem-Minh captures the natural beauty of a water-filled panorama, both over and under water. Thanks to a myriad of gorgeous aerial shots the director's haunting vision leaves its mark. Unfortunately, 2030 has ultimately little to offer beyond its handsome cinematography.

The picture opens with a brief animated infographic explaining the possible impact of rising sea level on developing countries such as Vietnam. Right after that Nghiem-Minh throws the audience underwater, where a man's body is seen falling deeper and deeper into the seemingly infinite darkness, thus setting the tale of love and mystery in motion. Everyone including the police is positive that the man - a humble and generous farmer named Thi (Thach Kim Long) - drowned in a tragic accident. That is everyone apart from his angry wife Sao (Quynh Hoa), who immediately smells something fishy about the incident and decides to investigate further.

In order to help the viewers understand what makes this undeniably devastated yet fearlessly determined woman so sure that her beloved husband was killed by someone she knows 2030 jumps back 10 years and expands on her life before marriage. By the time water transformed into humanity's greatest enemy, Sao had a short but wholehearted romantic relationship with Thuy (Hoang Tran Minh Duc), Coastal University's visiting scientist working on a supposedly important research that deals with the region's flora and its ability to adapt to severe conditions. The truth is, however, that this potentially groundbreaking passion project might pose a threat to people's health: its main objective is to produce genetically modified vegetables that can be grown using salt water alone.

Whether Thuy is a mad man obsessed with money or a high-minded scientist trying to save the civilization from an impending doom serves as a continuous dilemma for the female protagonist. Although Sao can't shake off the fact that Thuy left her before they had a chance to enjoy their relationship to its fullest and is now, in her opinion, the prime suspect in the death of Thi, deep inside she still has feelings for him.

And yet even with so much emotional tension on display the romance feels unexceptionally lightweight and unexciting. It's not that the story is underdeveloped; what's problematic is that the scope of the material Nghiem-Minh tries to tackle outshines the narrative's central arc and gives little space for the character-driven drama to make a highly desirable splash.

In the meantime the initially intriguing theme of murder succumbs to being suspenseless and at one point loses to its more eco-friendly but conventional counterpart. Given its connection to modern agricultural practices, the nature and safety of GMO is undoubtedly an important topic these days. To elaborate on the subject with enough force and determination is to make a difference, an objective that's rather hard to find in the picture. Whether rushed or clumsily written or both, 2030 never really achieves full potential of its dystopian ambiance.
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