Inside the Yellow Cocoon Shell movie review (2024)

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Winner of the Camera d’Or for Best First Feature at the Cannes Film Festival, “Inside the Yellow Cocoon Shell” is a gorgeous film. Written and directed by An, the film follows Thien on his expedition at a steady pace, taking in the natural beauty of rural Vietnam with exquisite detail, from verdant mountains to foggy skies that add to the ethereal quality of the film’s narrative. Dinh Duy Hung’s Cinematography is equally measured as An’s direction, like in moments when carefully framing people through doors and windows—almost in a John Ford way—to evoke a sense of belonging and travel. Then there are the faraway shots that make Thien and his problems look small from a distance, looking at the bigger picture from a perspective that Thien cannot see for himself. As a nod to An’s work as a wedding videographer, not only do we see an example of Thien at work early on, we see this “back of the room” view at his sister-in-law’s services—observational and removed to a certain existent but still very much present. 

“Inside the Yellow Cocoon Shell” is the type of slow cinema where the viewer fills the gaps of the story and moments of silence with their own thoughts and interpretations. It’s constructed to feel immersive, almost as if we were sitting outside in the humid air and muddy road with Thien. We feel the minutes drip by as he rides his motorbike over hills and past acres of lush greenery, gently answers Dao’s never ending stream of questions, and stops to listen to stories from local elders as the camera rolls on these impressively long shots with very controlled minimal movement, zooming in inch by inch until the space fills the camera’s frame just right, almost as if this were a live shot from a documentary and not a carefully staged moment. It’s even further impressive when the supporting characters (the cast are all non-professional actors) launch into longer monologues about their past and dreams, without cuts or sudden movements. All that’s left is the stillness and the storyteller.  

Thien’s internal spiritual journey is also reflected in the visual and narrative details of “Inside the Yellow Cocoon Shell.” Jesus on the cross is seen several times throughout the movie, from walls and funeral decor to hidden among the reeds of a river. Beyond Christ’s imagery, Thien’s old crush, Thao (Nguyen Thi Truc Quynh), grows up to be a nun and teacher in their old hometown. On his travels to find his brother, his motorbike fails, and Thien receives help from a Good Samaritan who gets him to a mechanic. Although it seems like religion has failed him, it is all around him in both small and noticeable ways. Something about the natural beauty of his trip feels as calming as sitting in a church pew under stained glass windows’ kaleidoscopic lights. 


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