THE DEEP MORASS OF BLUE BAYOU
To write that Writer/Director Justin Chon's Blue Bayou (2021) packs a punch is an understatement. Punches, literally, are thrown at our hero Antonio LeBlanc (also Justin Chon) for his unpardonable sin of being a Korean-American. Worse the police brutality, instigation and cold indifference he experiences reflects being a minority in one of the, arguably, most racist states in the country, Louisiana.
Antonio's refuge--a small home near the Louisiana bayou, his pregnant wife (Alicia Vikander), and step-daughter (Sydney Kowalske)--can only last for so long. But beyond his daily challenges lies an even more heart-wrenching fact: Antonio was abandoned by his Korean mother to be adopted by white American parents who had no wherewithal about the process. Worse, Antonio has no memory of his Korean past, other than an idyllic picture of his mother sitting in a boat floating on a lake.
Still, joy permeates the tragic circumstances of his life, for his wife, Kathy, and step-child, Jessie love and adore him. They may have little money--an ex-con who has few work prospects, Antonio plies his trade as a tattoo artist at a salon in New Orleans--the family understands the need for quality time, to enjoy the moment. However, Kathy's ex-husband (played by Marc O'Brien) who had left her and Jessie without looking back, decides to he wants to mend his relationship with his daughter.
Ace's demands invoke Antonio's guilt even more: his connection to Kathy and Jessie may be his strength but like Coleridge's albatross, it's also a constant reminder of what he can't provide. Only the natural beauty of the bayou helps relieve the burden of struggling to survive even with the added complication of Kathy's ex, who also happens to be a cop.
Interspersing the drama, symbolism--water, an misty, unfocused marsh; Antonio's mother in traditional Korean dress, these and other metaphors continue to appear throughout the story.
Mesmerizing cinematography--Ante Cheng and Matthew Chuang--grabs the eye from the beginning. Dialogue, once again, takes a back seat to the imagery with the exception of well-crafted exchanges between Antonio and a cancer-stricken Vietnamese woman that he meets at work and befriends. She shares his spiritual connection to the natural world, represented in part by waterlilies seemingly hovering on the surface but hiding powerful roots.
The riveting cast deliver: Wikander as Kathy, who sings "Blue Bayou" in a pivotal scene worthy of a record deal; Chon as the embattled Antonio, and wunderkind Kowalske (Jessie) who has an uncanny resemblance to Wikander . Kowalske can break your heart with a glance. Park Nguyen as Antonio's new-found confidante, Lin Dan Pham, and veteran actor Vondie Curtis-Hall as a retained lawyer for Antonio that has seen the young man's predicament all too often. also impress.
Antonio's fate demonstrates the hellish bureaucracy of a broken system exploited by those who enact inexplicable laws, enforce rarely with mercy those statutes; the hidden weaknesses of international adoption. His character may be flawed, the scars of his past opened by new wounds in the present, but Justin Chon's Antonio makes a strong argument for all immigrants, even those who've come here legally then subjected to a threat of deportation without due process.
Filled with paradoxes, Blue Bayou can be exasperating yet moving. It may also have you playing Linda Ronstadt's iconic song and album, Simple Dreams after viewing. Listen not only for this movie's titular song but the sad beauty of the lyrics, for the words say much about life in the bayou, love in tatters.
Rated R for ruthless beatings, language and traumas.
Now playing at a theater near you. Locals see it at the Cape Cinema, Dennis, MA.
Earlier reviews not seen on this website (before May 20, 2021) are available on https://www.rottentomatoes.com/critic/wendy-shreve/movies or my previous blog site, featuringfilm.com
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