Duyen (the radiant Lê Vân) is a young mother in post-war Vietnam, struggling to cope with the mounting grief and responsibility surrounding the death of her husband. In trying to disguise the tragic news from her son and bedridden father-in-law, she ends up calling upon the help of Zhang, a local schoolteacher, who forges a series of letters from the husband to prolong this façade. Their close collaboration leads to forbidden feelings, and the stress of concealing another emotion forces Duyen into a theatrical fantasy world whenever she is overwhelmed with guilt. Before long, the entire charade is despoiled by the return of a soldier who knew Duyen's husband.
As tragic and involving as it may be, When The Tenth Month Comes is far from the overt anti-American statement one would have anticipated in such a political clime. Đặng Nhật Minh, the film’s director and writer, refuses to point fingers, preferring to magnify the feelings of grief and guilt in the individuals upon whom the injustices were perpetrated. He also defiantly revels in the complexities of Vietnamese culture, and this is even reflected in the enigmatic title (which refers to the time when spirits purportedly return to their loved ones for forgiveness). The theme of escapism is present, but limited. Duyen's dramatic daydreams are exactly that - even her fantasy world is a play, wherein everyone acts, lies and pretends. It’s a daring, unpredictable style of filmmaking, but Lê Vân’s immaculate performance ensures that there isn’t a single wasted frame.