Vietnam, in the Western popular imagination, has been endlessly re-imagined by the destructive tragedy of its war. Violent portrayals of U.S. and Vietnamese troops mired in struggle dominate Vietnam's identity in Western cinema. With this history in mind, along comes Vietnamese-American director Tony Bui, whose project clearly consists of articulating a new nation via film.
Three Seasons is a beautifully visual essay on the Vietnam of today, focusing on rain-hazed landscapes, lotus flowers, and the discretely interrelated stories of several characters. After the war's cinematic fallout, Bui's work comes as a much-needed essay on regrowth and regeneration. The title refers to Vietnam's annual triptych of dry season, wet season, and growth season (although a smartly non-linear narrative shuffles up any naturalistic order). Three sentimental episodes serve as symbolic starting-points rather than character studies: a flower picker loses her job to vendors of plastic blossoms, and she transcribes the poems of a dying leper who was once a beautiful man; a streetwise youth must relocate his box of cheap trinkets lost while talking to an ex-Marine (Harvey Keitel) searching for his daughter; a bicycle-cab driver romances a noble yet emotionally wounded prostitute. Three Seasons points a new direction for American films set in Vietnam by replacing scenes of wartime ravages with compellingly contemporary visual lyricism.