The Third Wife – Film Review
Director: Ash Mayfair
Cast: Long Le Vu, Mai Thu Huong Maya, Nguyen Phuong Tra My
by Sarah Morgan
Meet May, the 14-year-old bride of an older, wealthy man. She is his third wife and this is a polygamous marriage, set up in 19th century rural Vietnam.
May is expected to help run the household alongside her husband’s two other spouses, both of whom are much older and more experienced than she. May longs to have a male child, which would give her more prominence and respect.
She does fall pregnant, but feels herself increasingly drawn to Xuan, the second wife, who has been having a long and passionate affair with her husband’s son from his first marriage. After she eventually rejects him on the eve of his nuptials to another child bride, he begins a terrifying descent into depression that leaves a tragic impact.
“Won plaudits almost everywhere”
May, meanwhile, is disappointed to give birth to a daughter, and when we eventually leave her, their future seems unclear.
The story was inspired by the family history of director Ash Mayfair, a Vietnam-raised but New York-educated director making her feature-length debut here; her script won the Spike Lee Production Fund in 2014 and the resulting film has won plaudits almost everywhere it has been shown.
However, the Vietnamese authorities pulled it from cinemas due to some intimate scenes involving star Nguyen Phuong Tra My, who was just 13 years old during shooting. Knowing her age does make the viewer uncomfortable, but perhaps that adds something to the story by bringing home just how young girls like May were when they were given away by their families and expected to fulfil certain duties.
The film itself is stunning to look at. Mayfair certainly has an exquisite eye for detail and imagery – there isn’t a shot that looks out of place; everything flows from one moment to another, almost like a beautifully composed piece of music.
The problem is that it’s a little too quiet. Rather than being feature-length, the story would have worked better as a shorter piece – it feels stretched out somewhat. At just over an hour and a half in length, the time spent watching it should have flown by, and yet it felt so much longer.
Sadly, apart from the film’s trailer, the disc contains no special features.
‘The Third Wife’ is released on Blu-ray by Eureka, £12.99