Review: Nuoc 2030 (Nguyen-Vo, 2014) – CAAMFest 2015

Still from the movie Nuoc 2030

Science fiction movies are still relatively rare at film festivals, so I jumped at the chance to watch this film, which is competing in CAAMFest 2015‘s Comcast Narrative Competition. Set in the year 2030 (and vaguely reminiscent of Waterworld), Nuoc 2030 imagines a Vietnamese coastal village that has succumbed to sea level rise. Properties are marked by signs anchored to the now-flooded earth, and residents travel to each other’s floating homes and to the communal floating market by boat. For most, it’s a tough, impecunious life where food, especially of the fresh, plant-based variety, is in short supply. One forward-thinking company, however, has established a floating farm, which now serves as the community’s economic center. In this environment Sao (Quynh Hoa) and her husband Thi (Kim Long Thach) eke out a desperate existence.

The film is divided into two parts, delineating two separate but intertwined love stories. The first takes place in the present time, circa 2030, and the second occurs ten years prior when sea level rise seemed more thought experiment than imminent reality. This backwards-moving timeline creates a sense of suspenseful mystery: dramatic events occur without explanation, their causes to be revealed layer by layer as the story unravels into the past. At the center of the mystery is Giang (Quy Binh), a scientist employed by the company running the floating farm. Who is Giang? we initially wonder, and, as we find out more, Is he villain or hero?

The premise is certainly an interesting one; unfortunately, the plot is a little slipshod, especially as we slip back into the present day for the tale’s conclusion. If the first love story resonates with a rough reality, the second one drowns beneath a load of romantic fantasy. As events progress, they become more and more emotionally incredible, with the film’s ending the most implausible of all.

Still, there is much to praise in director Minh Nguyen-Vo‘s second feature film (and his first in ten years). Quynh Hoa gives a compelling performance as the story’s heroine, convincing both as the vengeful wife and the coy schoolgirl. The cinematography is also unexpectedly engaging, especially the unusual, visually arresting camera angles and the expansive shots of leaden skies and choppy waters. And the floating community is rendered with such detailed realism that it’s difficult to believe it doesn’t actually exist somewhere.

If Nuoc 2030 doesn’t quite fulfill its potential, I’ll bet that one of Nguyen-Vo’s future films will.