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Beautiful Dreamer at The Los Angeles Film Festival

By Anthony Epling

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For millions of immigrants worldwide, the United States is still the ultimate destination.  It offers a hope that most of us who were born here take for granted, but every year numerous individuals pin their futures on the lapel of that shooting star, dreaming that their American dream will come to fruition. 

Bai Ling, Tran Dang Quoc Thinh, and Damien Nguyen star as Ling, Tham, and Binh in "The Beautiful Country"

Such is the case with Binh (Damien Nguyen) in The Beautiful Country, shown as part of the Los Angeles Film Festival, opening in area theaters in early July. 

Binh is a 'bui-doi', a child of mixed Vietnamese and American parentage.  He is considered less than dirt by his fellow countrymen and the foster family he lives with in a remote village in Vietnam in the early 1990s.  When he discovers that his mother is still alive and working in 'the big city' (Saigon), he quickly locates her and his younger brother, Tam (Tran Dang Quoc Thinh).  Reunited with her son, Binh's mother immediately showers him with the fierce love and compassion of a woman who never gave up caring for her child, even though he was not around to help.  However, when circumstances in their lives turn tragic, Binh and Tam flee Vietnam for America in an effort to find Binh's father in Houston. 

When the boat they are fleeing on washes ashore in Malaysia, Binh and Tam are interned in a refugee camp.  There, they befriend Ling (Bai Ling), a streetwise and seemingly hardened Chinese woman who earns money performing sexual favors for guards.  Though they greet one another with muted distance, Ling and Binh recognize a familiar discomfort and self-loathing in one another.  When the refugee camp explodes in rebellion, they escape.  Ling tries to help Binh and Tam to a boat that will take them to America, but he refuses to go without her. 

On the boat, they quickly discover by paying for passage, they have committed themselves to a lifetime of misery and servitude' all in an effort to repay the ship's captains for ushering them to America.  Despite the prospect of a life of indentured servitude Binh continues to believe that America is a 'beautiful country' that presents him with opportunity' opportunity to reunite with the father he never knew. 

The most remarkable part of the film, directed by Hans Petter Moland, is the strength of its characters who are gradually revealed in unique and surprising ways.  Almost every character in the film later reveals something about him/herself that forces you to reconsider your initial perception.  Sabina Murray's screenplay crafts her screenplay so that you are never forced off-balance by each small character reveal that arrives with surprising information. 

Performances from the entire cast are strong, including a debut performance from Damien Nguyen as Binh that is self-assured and remarkable given the character's reticent nature.  Nguyen holds the movie together despite the un-flashy nature of the role.  The film also contains a particularly robust turn from Nick Nolte as the father Binh never knew.  The accomplished veteran delivers a finely nuanced character that appears to be full of bustle and blow, but is nothing more than a damaged shell housing a soul marred by the family he left in Vietnam.  The final scenes between Binh and his father occur with a generosity of spirit that only an actor of Nolte's caliber could've brought to the process.  His elegance, matched only by Stuart Dryburgh's stunning cinematography, brings new meaning to the idea of beautiful. 

Published on Dec 31, 1969

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