Eternity (2016)

Directed by Tran Anh Hung
Country: France / Belgium

France-based Vietnamese filmmaker Tran Anh Hung is known for his sensitive depictions of plausible life dramas through a meditative approach. All this is reflected in the worth-discovering first works of his short filmography, such as "The Scent of Green Papaya" (1993), "Cyclo" (1995), and "The Vertical Ray of the Sun" (2000). This trilogy concerns his country of origin and you should start with it, in case you’re not familiar with his work.

Eternity” is his first ‘French’ story, following “I Come With the Rain” (2009), a minor neo-noir thriller whose action takes place in the US, Philippines, and Hong Kong, and “Norwegian Wood” (2010), an unconvincing Japanese romantic tale. Hung wrote the screenplay based on the novel “The Elegance of Widows" by Alice Ferney.

Choppily narrated by the helmer’s wife, Tran Nu Yen Khe, the film stars Audrey Tautou, Bérénice Bejo, Mélanie Laurent, Jérémie Renier, and Pierre Deladonchamps, whose characters belong to the same family and are tied by strong bonds.

The narrative begins with the focus on Valentine (Tautou) who, at the age of 17, marries Jules (Arieh Worthalter), a good-natured troubadour. They become proud parents of six children. Predestined to live a long life, Valentine goes through a lot by seeing her loved ones departing to the other world due to illness or war.

The painful sensation of losing a child haunts her again, many years after her husband's death, when her son, Henri (Renier), marries Mathilde (Laurent). The narrative shifts again to the latter’s cousin, Gabrielle (Bejo), and her quiet husband, Charles (Deladonchamps), since both couples are intimately connected and, like a family curse, will inevitably deal with death in their own ways. 

Eternity” sweeps family generations with a cyclical boredom. On one hand, we have the aching, mournful women; on the other, the quiet, introspective men. All the frames are rigorously composed through elegant period settings and painted with saturated colors, predominantly embracing yellowish and reddish tonalities. Hung draws its natural formalism from Rohmer. However, the orchestrated classical piano music and the occasional use of slow motion techniques only increase the melancholy of a tale that would benefit if less contemplative and a bit more expeditious in its strategies for the big screen. 

The lugubrious atmosphere that surrounds the drama is soon turned into enervation, and you will probably find yourself making an effort to stay awake only not to miss the superfluous ending.
Totally forgettable, “Eternity” reveals a nostalgic Tran Anh Hung in need of urgent inspiration.