An impressively assured debut feature from writer-director Ash Mayfair, who follows 14-year-old May as she enters life as the third wife of a wealthy landowner in 19th-century Vietnam. Her approach is expertly immersive: in this world, a girl is marriageable when she starts to menstruate, and the shock of her youth, while not immaterial to the theme, does not stop the viewer from entering into the story. More precisely, it does not keep us from seeing through May’s eyes: throughout, she is a careful observer of how women live in this man’s world. (In a word: precariously. Not for nothing does one little girl boast of how she has prayed to Buddha that she will grow up to be a man.) And Mayfair follows her protagonist's lead, using no more words than necessary, and instead relying on images to ground — or better, embody — her narrative. The life cycle of the silk moth gets special attention here, and while the cuts between rounded cocoons and pregnant bellies ain’t exactly subtle, neither are they inappropriate. Perhaps most remarkable is the contrast between the intense interior drama and the lush, languorous world in which it rages. (2018) — Matthew Lickona
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