Kiet Le-Van’s “Gentle” – 2014 Busan Film Review

“Gentle,” the title of Vietnamese director Kiet Le-Van’s latest mystery film, is a nod to the short story from which it was adapted, Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s “A Gentle Creature.”  Set in modern-day Vietnam away from the bustling metropolis of Saigon but taking on an eerie mood of a long gone era, the film begins just as the short story does with the suicide of a young wife, in this case Linh (played by Nguyen Thanh Tu).  The rest of the film reconstructs how her death came to be from a third-person perspective, featuring a small cast of characters, including Linh’s middle-aged pawnbroker husband Thien (Dustin Nguyen); her two aunts who fail at fulfilling guardianship roles following the deaths of Linh’s parents; and a friend from the church that Linh attends.

The pairing of Linh and Thien occurs when a less-than-ideal suitor threatens to marry Linh off.  Thien swoops in to save the young girl with promises of financial stability rather than unconditional love.  Unsurprisingly, the pairing goes south in a hurry, and the claustrophobic nature of Linh’s surroundings do little to nurture her well-being.  The story shifts between Thien trying to figure out what went wrong and what actually happened.  It is this element where “Gentle” can actually feel a bit rushed despite its otherwise pensive nature.  Rather swift transitions occur between past and present, with few visuals to distinguish the two sides.  Equally hurried is a desire to check off all the plot boxes in Dostoyevsky’s short story.  However, these serve as minor quibbles in an adaptation enhanced by the setting of southern Vietnam and the focus on religion, which add psychological dimensions to Linh’s downfall.  The cast is superb, notably Dustin Nguyen and impressive newcomer Nguyen Thanh Tu, whose blank slate in the beginning of the film masks a growing intellectual desire, only to find it suppressed by her husband.

The world premiere of “Gentle” takes place at the Busan International Film Festival, with screenings on Oct. 4, 7 and 8.  For more information, go to