'Sway': Toronto Review

Courtesy of Toronto International Film Festival
A wisplike evocation of existential wanderlust

Couples in three cities cope with rootlessness

Couples on three different continents struggle to remain connected in a world that enables rootlessness in Rooth Tang's Sway, an evanescent triptych viewers may at first expect to coalesce as it goes. Clearly inspired by Wong Kar-Wai and Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, the globe-jumping picture is clearly intelligent but not quite meaty enough for its ambitions; though not as aesthetically accomplished as its models, it does effectively depict a mindset afflicting many in this age of easy mobility. The right attention from tastemakers could help the picture make the leap from fests to a small arthouse run in the States.

Set in Paris, Los Angeles and Bangkok, the three stories also take place at different moments in recent history, though this is communicated oddly and has little if any clear bearing on the characters. In Paris, a young man who hasn't been home in four years spends some hours in the airport after disembarking, calling friends here and there and reporting that he'll probably stay in town until his visa expires, then fly somewhere else to reset the clock. He's having a casual-seeming relationship with a young woman who used to be a TV star in Asia, but who tired of showbiz superficiality.

In L.A., at the moment of Barack Obama's election to his first term, an American woman who has married a Japanese widower is struggling with the shadow of his late wife, especially as an obstacle in earning the respect, much less the affection, of their teenaged daughter. And in Bangkok, we follow flashbacks to a courtship between a woman who has never traveled and a more worldly entrepreneur who has been plenty of places, stoking his faith in a business scheme that may come to naught.

Talk of relocation is scattered throughout these couples' conversations, sometimes with specific purposes in mind, sometimes not, and sometimes simply in the hope that it will trigger a change in one's life. But as we see in various ways — most pointedly in the arrival of a character's mother in Paris, having fled the U.S. after fighting with her father ("I'm thinking of Milan," she reports) — these transcontinental moves hardly represent the life change they did a century ago, and going to the other side of the world is unlikely to take you far from the version of yourself you're stuck with today.

Attractive lensing (by Vasco Lucas Nunes and Lyn Moncrief) and editing by Tang enhance the mood of sophisticated ennui. Though not quite as consistent as the film's tech values, performances are generally strong.

Production companies: Wayward Productions LlC, Diligence Films, Convergence Entertainment

Cast: Matt Wu, Lu Huang, Ananda Everingham, Sajee Apiwong, Kazuhiko Nishimura, Kris Wood-Bell, Miki Ishikawa

Director-Screenwriter: Rooth Tang

Producers: Rooth Tang, Julien Rouch, Pattanan Chincharoenchai, Tim Kwok

Executive producers: Suchart Tang, Suwanna Tang

Directors of photography: Vasco Lucas Nunes, Lyn Moncrief

Production designer: Audrey Liao, Dusit Eimoun, Alec Contestabile

Editor: Rooth Tang

Music: Pakk Hui

No rating, 107 minutes

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