All Stories

Lost in Another City

By: Isa Ho

*This article contains spoilers for Another City.Water is everywhere in Another City. Against an urban landscape of disconnect and alienation, water pervades. A woman sits, drenched, in an empty studio. A group of men sleep, sing, and cry in front of a tarp that depicts a pouring waterfall. Window-wipers work over a building’s outer surface, leaving trickling rivulets that obscure the cityscape beyond the glass. At the film’s conclusion, an unlikely group of people, brought together by unknown forces, gather in front of what looks like that same waterfall to sit in its thundering spray. For a moment, they appear to be at peace.The constant presence of water speaks to a larger dichotomy that is being drawn between nature and the urban in the film. When the characters inhabit the city, they are portrayed through the language of distance, at odds instead of in unison with one another. A group of men sing karaoke together, but each of their thoughts are occupied by different concerns. One laments his recent breakup. One warbles along to the song. Two others doze on a raised platform. In the final shot of the scene, the men sit in the same room, but their gazes are all splintered in different directions, signifying their isolation. Despite inhabiting the same physical space, they are encompassed in the world of their own minds.

Still from Another City, Dir. Pham Ngoc Lan

For a film whose title features the word ‘city’, some might not initially view Another City as a work that is overtly about urbanity. Where are the wide shots of the cityscape? The implementation of the city’s many noises? The evocation of its bustling crowds? The film does not delve directly into the physicality of urban space, but instead chooses to do so through the mind of its characters. Each character, with relationships and backstories only alluded to rather than directly conveyed, stands as more of an abstract than a fully-fledged person. Yet the distance this creates between the viewer and the character only serves to reinforce the sense of alienation that saturates the film. The city does not rise, as it often does in urban-centric works, to the level of a character in itself. Rather, its effects are embodied in the characters, in its impact on their lives.Water seeps through the cracks of the film’s cityscape, both reminding the characters of what they lose in the city, and perhaps as a symbol of hope for the future. On the back wall of a doctor’s office, as he informs a bride-to-be on the state of her private parts in the most matter-of-fact language, sits a framed image of the waterfall. In the cold, clinical blues and beiges of the office, the painting is a strange pop of life, its colours at once a match for the cool décor and yet at the same time completely different in what it depicts. In the end, it is depicted as unifying, a suspended slice of time that brings together these souls in conflict.

Still from Another City, Dir. Pham Ngoc Lan