Three Seasons opens with a gorgeous panorama of the rich, green Vietnamese countryside, accompanied by a haunting musical track made up of high-pitched female voices and exotic stringed instruments. This combination of mysterious music and verdant colors sums up your reviewer’s enjoyment of the film, the first American production shot in Vietnam since the war, some thirty years ago. A feast for the eyes and ears surely, but if one is hungry for more than the appetizer of sight and sound, one will wait in vain for the arrival of the main course, such as plot, screenplay or character development.
The story circles around the lives of four sets of characters: the little street urchin with the heart of gold; the hooker who is really a country girl at heart and the cyclo driver who loves and patiently pursues her; the old leprous poet whose poems must surely have been stronger before translation; and, worst of all, Harvey Keitel.
Seeing Harvey Keitel sitting on a chair in the heat of Ho Chi Minh City is like having Clark Gable for a doorman. You can get the door open without Clark Gable. What the hell is he doing there anyway? Of course, we all know why he is there, because he is Harvey Keitel, and also because Harvey Keitel just happens to be the executive producer of Three Seasons. So the fourth plot variation winds around Keitel’s search for his Warchild, whom he fortuitously runs into in a restaurant, symbolically during the main course which you never see him eat. I think that is what happens, but I may be wrong, because, like I say, it’s all quite symbolic. The young girl is very beautiful, naturally, and this, plus the goo goo eyes she makes for Harvey, is supposed to tell us his quest is over. Thank Buddha for that. This dyspeptic plot variation makes you long for the happy hooker or the leprous poet.
Still, plot and characters aside, the film does make you think. It is difficult for an American to see a movie filmed in Vietnam and not experience many conflicting emotions. The scenes of village women stand out – harvesting flowers on the glorious lotus lake, for example, and singing while they work in a beautiful gospel-like call-and-response. There are other memorable moments as well.
But a few scenes do not an entire movie make. One leaves the theater with a feeling of having had a marginally interesting two hours, and the soundtrack stays with you longer than most appetizers. But in the end, a real entree would have been more satisfying – like a story that made sense. For this reviewer if Harvey Keitel had simply fallen asleep on his chair and stayed there, that would have been dessert enough.