After making rounds on the festival circuit, the surrealist short film In Full Bloom begins its life online, premiering on Short of The Week and living on here. Written and directed by Maegan Houang, In Full Bloom features legendary Vietnamese-American actress Kiều Chinh (M*A*S*H) and tells the story of Cecile, an elderly hoarder whose life is upended when worms trigger a black hole in her home and threaten to take her most cherished belongings.
The 10-minute short cuts a deep narrative about a Vietnamese immigrant overcoming the loss of her partner. After her husband’s death, Cecile becomes an agoraphobic hoarder, paradoxically practicing what she loves — gardening — indoors without the help of direct sunlight. She orders mysterious worms to grow a rare flower. Though they help the flower to grow, the worms activate a growing black hole that absorbs everything she holds dear. With her home unrecognizably empty, Cecile has no choice but to leave for the first time since her husband has died and re-assimilate into society.
Through a fantastical lens, Houang poses the question: Can a person ever truly overcome losing someone they love? As such, the film explores coping after the death of a partner, which often leads to unresolved trauma and severe mental illness. Houang’s perceptive approach sheds light on the unique circumstances that affect Vietnamese Americans, particularly older individuals within the community.
The story is partially inspired by her grandfather’s severe dementia, and inability to remember that his wife (Maegan’s grandmother) had died, frequently asking where she was in the middle of the night. “I spent my childhood feeling haunted by the loss of a person I barely knew,” says Houang. “In many immigrant and refugee communities, past trauma continues to haunt people throughout their lives. I wanted to capture this aspect of Cecile’s life by visualizing how holding onto every little thing has become an unhealthy and fleeting source of comfort.”
To convey the metaphor of losing one’s memories, Houang took a suitably reality-bending visual approach. She explains: “I believe that some emotional experiences can and should be explored more subjectively and through fantasy. To me, In Full Bloom is an adult fairy tale that considers, at times abstractly, how one lives in the face of losing everything.”
In addition to the film’s spectacularly stylized set design, Houang opted away from CGI, utilizing practical effects (with VFX cleanup) to create the black hole, and using fishing wire to capture the pull of various objects into its orbit. Even the worms were stop-motion animated by Jason Whetzell, which serves to imbue the film with a darkly whimsical aesthetic.
In Full Bloom was created as part of the VSCO Voices grant in partnership with Access Ventures, which equipped five creators with funding and mentorship to tell the stories of marginalized communities in the United States through art. The opportunity to bring In Full Bloom to fruition further powers Houang’s drive to tell emotionally authentic stories, particularly ones that represent the female Asian American experience.
Having Kiều Chinh (The Joy Luck Club) sign on to do the film was the icing on the cake for Houang. She enthuses: “Kiều has over five decades of contributions to the motion picture industry. I’m so incredibly grateful for depth of emotion she brought to the role of Cecile, someone who is desperately trying to keep alive the memory of the person they loved the most.”