Set in a remote compound in 19th century Viet Nam, The Third Wife is a beautifully shot story of a young girl’s journey from childhood to marriage to motherhood. It was a society that did not value women except for their ability to produce a male heir, and young May is delivered into her new home to learn as she goes about status and custom. The other two wives are friendly, as are their children, but their worth is measured for them only by their sons. It’s a sad tale, but one that has been told many times before. And in this telling, there is not a whole lot of new territory covered.
It’s a very quiet film. May wanders around and watches. She has obligatory sex with her new husband. And she spends her days with the other wives and their daughters. The only real drama in the film is when she witnesses wife #2 sneaking off to have sex with wife #1’s son. The seasons pass and she gets pregnant and has a child. It feels a lot like the director is trying to say something deep about the plight of women, but it feels entirely too muffled. It’s got arty written all over it, but still, it did not speak to me. Except for the beauty of the cinematography, I cannot recommend it.