THEY’RE ALL BAD PEOPLE. I’d like to say that the characters in Portland-based director Vu Pham’s short films are “morally complex”—but really, just about every single one of them is self-serving in a way that can be hard to watch. There’s a theater director who’s playing mind games with his wife in preparation for a role. There’s a charismatic cult leader who’s trying to pull one of his followers back into the fold. There’s a husband who’s coming down from a 48-hour bender, dealing with the heartbreak he’s caused.
Presented as part of the NW Film Center’s Northwest Tracking series, Memory’s Lonely Breath: Films by Vu Pham will see Pham introduce his 2015 triptych of short films collectively titled Love Is Strong, along with a new short, The Cutting Shadow. With each, you’ll have to work a little to get into the worlds of these stories—but Pham will reward you, especially regarding the sound work. If there’s any constant to Pham’s films, it’s that each one starts jarringly, takes a minute to ease into, and ends on an extremely satisfying audio note.
Pham’s latest, The Cutting Shadow, reintroduces characters from one of his early breakout pieces, My Brother, which was based on Pham’s real-life experience of his half brother following him around downtown Portland and yelling at him for reasons that were hard to discern. The Cutting Shadow reunites Michael (Pham) and Khan (Long Nguyen), with Khan, now a street-savvy tough guy, helping out his clueless, lovestruck half-brother on a surreal, small-time drug heist. All the ingredients necessary for a heist are here: three people on a couch, weird pets, a discussion of Camus, a cherished but unexplained photo on a wall, and people in space suits. The whole thing is pretty Mulholland Drive, right down to the red radio towers humming high on the hill.