“Ben Trong Vo Ken Vang” (Inside the Yellow Cocoon Shell) by Vietnamese director Pham Thien An has won the Camera d’Or award at Cannes 2023.
The movie received a five-minute standing ovation after its Cannes premiere on May 24 and received acclaim from international critics.
It tells the story of Thien, who takes his sister-in-law’s body to their hometown after she dies in an accident and takes care of his newly orphaned nephew.
The film was praised by critics.
“[The film is] a spiritual wander through rural Vietnam makes for a transfixing debut,” wrote Variety.
IndieWire gave the film a B+, saying An “has certainly found his own divine calling with filmmaking.”
Screendaily’s review said “There is also a great sense of flow in the camera movement, focusing on key moments but often prowling, tracking and traveling at speed as the action requires. There is an assured sense of a director in command of his storytelling.”
Screendaily also pointed out similarities between An and Thai director Apichatpong Weerasethakul, the only Southeast Asian filmmaker that had won the Palme d’Or, as both are interested in death, reincarnation, and beliefs.
Famed Vietnamese director Viet Linh considers the film “a nudge for the Vietnamese film industry, especially to independent filmmakers” and “an honor 30 years after Vietnamese-born director Tran Anh Hung won a Cannes major prize.”
“We found ourselves deeply engaged with the story, its characters, and the cinematography which was truly beautiful,” said Sebastien Chesneau, the CEO of Cercamon, a company that sells feature films and documentaries around the world which offered to purchase the film’s copyright in April.
“This film is a testament to the power of storytelling to transcend cultural boundaries and captivate audiences with its compelling narrative and stunning visuals.”
Director Pham Thien An told VnExpress that the film was a slow-paced piece illustrating the twists and turns in life, which was inspired by the Lam Dong highlands, An’s hometown, and biblical parables.
The protagonist Thien also reflects An’s values, he added.
It took An three-years to complete the script, from 2019 to March 2022. He used cold bleak and grayish-colors as the main palette as he believes that the humid atmosphere in Vietnam’s rainy season contributes to making the characters stronger and better depicts the contrast between nature and humans.
“To me, ideas and plots are temporary. My work’s main messages come from the locations, the timing, the humans, the nature, and extremely beautiful things which randomly appear in the filmmaking process,” he said.
Recalling his journey as a filmmaker, An said he didn’t have many chances to participate in entertainment as a child. Not much happened in the highlands of Lam Dong.
Instead, he usually held film shows at home and invited his friends. Most of the films chosen during this period were thriller or superhero movies.
He felt confused when he first studied films. At first, he often lost his patience while watching arthouse movies which could last between two to three hours. However, this attitude changed after he studied film shooting and editing.
“I gradually became interested in the movies I used to find hard to watch. So I tried making short films on my own,” he said.
In 2014, An won the runner-up prize at the “48 Hour Film Project.” In 2019, his short movie “Cam Lang” (The Mute) premiered at Palm Spring Short Movies Festival and was selected to compete at nearly 15 international film festivals including Winterthur (Switzerland), Tampere (Finland), Hong Kong, and Encounters.
“Ben Trong Vo Ken Vang” was funded by the Singapore Film Commission, Purin Pictures fund, Normandie Images association, and Hubert Bals Script & Project Development Support under Hubert Bals fund.
The film crew consists of members from Vietnam, Singapore, Spain and France. Previously, the film had also made it on the list of 19 movies that premiered under the Director’s Fortnight section, which is held in parallel to the Cannes Film Festival and honors arthouse films that do not compete for the main prizes.
The Camera d’Or is awarded for the best first feature film presented in one of Cannes’ selections, including Official Selection, Directors’ Fortnight and International Critics’ Week.
Vietnamese-born director Tran Anh Hung won this award in 1993 with his film “Mui Du Du Xanh” (The Scent of Green Papaya).