Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival Review: 2030, by David Bax
Minh Nguyen-Vo’s 2030 is a remarkably ambitious film. It encapsulates multiple genres, skips back and forth through time over a ten year gap and it is shot almost completely on the ocean. That it justifies its ambition is commendable enough but, not content with that, it achieves a sublime symbiosis of setting, character, aesthetic and theme.
As its title suggests, the film takes place, for the most part, fifteen years in the future. Large parts of south Vietnam have been submerged by the rising oceans. Most people have been evacuated but a few rural poor remain, occupying the expanse of sea above the land they once owned. 2030 focuses, at first, on one married couple who scrape by on the fish they catch on their plot of ocean. It would be unfair to give away too much of where the story goes but Quynh Hoa, as the woman, Sao, gives a performance that soars through a bevy of turns and changes. Hers is the spirit that keeps the film’s true North.
2030‘s watery premise may sound like Waterworld but the film has sunk its anchor too deeply into our present reality to include gills and gunfights. This movie is science fiction, to be sure (though perhaps the more fashionable “speculative fiction” fits better), but it is also every bit a Western. Its sparsely populated and mostly lawless setting recalls that genre, as do the sweeping vistas. And the ingenuity of the invented systems and structures used in this new old world are pure sci-fi. Nguyen-Vo doesn’t stop there, though eventually turning the film into a romance and a corporate thriller and executing each of these many genres with gusto.
Despite inhabiting all these modes, perhaps 2030‘s true classification is that of the social realist drama. The poison joke at the film’s core is that, despite the nearly apocalyptic changes the world has undergone, the lives of the poor are unchanged in their essence. They may be fishing instead of farming now but they struggle daily at the whim of fate all the same. Along with the climate change and genetic engineering issues that arise, this social conscience defines the film’s vital politics.
Yet despite the power of its issues, 2030 is chiefly concerned with its lead character’s mental and emotional landscape. Maybe it’s meant to be a metaphor for a world that has changed irrevocably but Sao’s extended flashback, bittersweet in its enjoyment of a love we already know ended badly, forms the emotional core of the story.
If the above descriptions make 2030 sound schizophrenic, then I have failed to translate the film’s singular determination and power. Its early scenes announce Nguyen-Vo’s ambition with shots of houses on stilts in the middle of the sea and huge, floating greenhouses. The only thing more impressive than the auteur’s vision is the confident way his film expands to fill its daunting scope.