Thao Nguyen Phan review – tribute to the Mekong River’s myth and might

Thao Nguyen Phan’s Becoming Alluvium opens with sound: an outboard motor puttering in the dark. The tea-brown, silt-clouded water of the Mekong appears, gliding beneath the prow of a little boat. Lines from the great poet Rabindranath Tagore’s The Gardener lap the screen, concluding: “Why did the harp-string break? I tried to force a note that was beyond its power. That is why the harp-string is broken.”

Becoming Alluvium is a lyric poem in moving images that echoes the mythic passion of Tagore’s verse, its varying rhythms and its themes of love, care and oneness with the natural world. At the heart of Phan’s short film is the Mekong River, the waterway flowing from Tibet through China, Myanmar, Laos, Thailand and Cambodia before meeting the sea in southern Vietnam.

The Mekong is the broken harp string, the thread forced beyond its power. A mighty river that has sustained life for millennia, now polluted by pesticides, factory runoff and vehicle fumes; mined for sand and drained for irrigation; dammed and over-fished.

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Hettie Judah