Flapping in the Middle of Nowhere
Despite being burdened with such a cumbersome English title, Diep Hoang Nguyen’s Dap Cánh Giua Không Trung (Flapping in the Middle of Nowhere) is subtle, fascinating and accomplished. Described as “several tropical fever dreams removed from Juno”, the Vietnamese debut follows Huyen (Thuy Anh Nguyen), a 17-year-old Hanoi student who finds herself pregnant by her young, irresponsible boyfriend. Her attempts at an abortion are constantly thwarted by circumstance, and the ending leaves her teetering on the edge of adulthood. Co-financed by multiple European agencies, the film has received praise on the film festival circuit since its initial release at the Venice Film Festival last year.
Filmed in moody low lighting, many shots are cluttered with people, furniture, and the encroaching urban realist landscape. Huyen is a quiet anomaly among this, calmly contemplating each new twist of fate the film presents her with. Her few escapes into the space of the countryside elevate the film more into magical realism, with wide shots of mountains, mist and rainforest as a stark contrast. This prevents it from becoming burdened under difficult themes of morality and harsh social realism; Diep instead uses surreal cinematography and dream sequences to realise the protagonist’s fear, alienation and burgeoning sexuality.
Huyen and her friends are indeed flapping in the middle of nowhere, stuck in menial, illegal or low-paying jobs, and struggling to make themselves heard over the huge trains that roar through their neighbourhood like clockwork. Diep has painted an affecting portrayal of disillusioned youth, the product of a Vietnam still struggling under the weight of its own values, with stark inequalities of class, gender and sexuality. Thuy shines here, filling an easily unlikeable role with bravery and vulnerability, and Thanh Duy Pham Tran as her flamboyant transgender roommate provides an interesting contrast in their sweet friendship.
Flapping in the Middle of Nowhere is an excellent first film, and will surely mean the beginning of a successful directorial career for Diep. What it lacks in pacing occasionally, it makes up for in artistic reverence and subtle drama, making it an important film for all to watch.
Flapping in the Middle of Nowhere does not have a UK release date yet.
Watch the trailer for Flapping in the Middle of Nowhere here: