Just saw this. Some comments and questions:
>Did the visuals seem like something from a TV show? I’m not sure if the quality comes from the filmstock, lenses or lighting (there was a kind of evenly lit feel that reminded me of TV; also the film felt like it was shot on a stage). From the very first scene, I got this sense and it turned me off, to be honest. (There are a few scenes that break out of this look—two involving Mui, as an adult, washing her hair. There’s a blueish tint to the scene and as I recall Tran uses this look to gorgeous effect in his later films.) I definitely prefer the visuals of Tran’s later films, which are very good looking, imo.
>There’s a film about recent films that are virtually silent, and I think this one would qualify. I really liked that aspect of the film.
>The film seems broken into two section: 1) Mui as a child and the family she’s with; 2) Mui as an adult and her meeting her husband. In some ways the film feels like almost slice-of-life as it both don’t really have strong narratives; instead they seem more like documents of what happened. Well, that last part may be going too far, but there is that slice-of-life vibe I think. Anyway, I enjoyed both, without really thinking about any larger meaning or subtext—but I’d be interested in hearing any interpretations of these things if anyone has them.
>Does anyone know if Tran has an architectural or interior design background? I find the buildings in many of his films to be really good architecture. What’s interesting is the way he makes these dwellings seem really romantic and almost luxurious (although that’s not the right word) in some of the more rural or beat-up buildings. (Note: that doesn’t apply to this film as wealthy families lived in both homes.) Anyway, I loved the houses in this film!
>Any thoughts on the meaning of the poem at the end of the film. Here is it:
The spring water, filling a hole in the rock trembles gently.
The vibration in the ground gave rise to powerful waves
That spread across the surface in irregular patterns, without breaking.
If there’s a verb meaning to stir harmoniously, it should be used here.
Plunged into darkness, the cherry trees unfurl sway and bend to the rhythm of water.
But what’s interesting is that, however they change, they still resemble cherry trees.
(Mui reads the looks directly into the camera while reading the last line. After finishing the last line, she gasps as the baby ostensibly kicks her in her stomach. Then the camera pans slowly upward to a Buddhist statute.)
It was shot on a stage.
Personally, that didn’t bother me, possibly because I knew it beforehand, but a person to whom I lent it noted that it seemed a bit off, and I think it was that aspect. It’s been a little while since I watched it, but I thought Mui was shown as an innocent, in both sections, but obviously not without negative influence (not that she influenced things negatively, necessarily, but that her very presence allowed for some negative consequences); while admittedly did not draw any hard conclusions from this (due, probably, to my lack of cultural awareness), but this did seem significant in some way.
So is that why the film looks like a TV program? For me, I sense my reaction comes from the print of the film and the lighting.
I don’t know whether that was why you felt the way you did about it, but I think it was part of it. (How did you watch it?)
The confined spaces, sometimes unreal lighting and somewhat artificial look of the movie enhanced (in retrospect) my enjoyment of it in that I felt it created both a dreamIike quality reinforced by Mui and her sort of separation from everything around her (while also being integrated into whatever she does). I did not know enough to make definite parallels, but I wondered if she either exemplified some sort of nostalgically idealized person or past from before the Vietnam war, given that it takes place before the conflict (to my recollection), what I perceived as her innocence and detachment (which, as I mention, does prompt certain unpleasant outcomes, at least from the perspective of certain characters) being somehow meaningful given what would later happen to the country. Alternatively, perhaps it was merely a setting that is overlooked for the war which has ingrained itself in the American (and, as a result, film world) consciousness.
I don’t recall thinking much about the poem when I watched, but reading it here seems to potentially reinforce the (probably obvious) thought that she was representative of the nation in some way, whether as a spirit of the culture, or of a thing lost (but not really).
Yeah, it was shot in a studio . . . in Paris. Very different from Cyclo. I wouldn’t say it looks like TV, exactly, but it does look artificial.
How did you watch it?
On my computer monitor—but I’ve watched other films this way too and didn’t feel the same way.
Re: Vietnam War
I believe the film takes place in the 50s (1954, if I remember correctly), so it’s before the war. There were some sounds of planes heard in the film, so that might support your reading of the film. I didn’t really think about that angle much, but I’d be interested if you have any other ideas to support this reading.
Btw, if the film was shot exclusively in a studio, the recreation of the house and the street was pretty amazing.
Matt said, Very different from Cyclo.
What about Vertical Ray of the Sun. I didn’t get the same feeling from that film.
“I believe the film takes place in the 50s (1954, if I remember correctly), so it’s before the war.”
Generally, the dates of the French invasion are given as 1946-1954, and the American part of the conflict 1965-1973. But until around the 1980’s Vietnam had been in conflict for almost a millennia, on and off.
“Btw, if the film was shot exclusively in a studio, the recreation of the house and the street was pretty amazing.”
Yup. Shot completely in a studio in Paris. Trinh T. Minh-ha wonders why the film has never been called a French film, given that it had no Vietnamese financing or locations.
An interesting film for the way it uses genre, and explores identity and this is explicated by the fact that the identity of the film itself is in question.
Oops, I forgot about the conflict with the French. I think the film starts in ’54, though and then ends ten years later. Thanks for the correction/information, Wu.
The poem, specifically, is about the child, and in the abstract it concerns the constancy of identity, irrespective of change and outside forces that influence identity. That’s what I get, anyway.
Trinh T. Minh-ha wonders why the film has never been called a French film, given that it had no Vietnamese financing or locations.
Yes, it’s a legitimate question, especially considering that the film’s director is essentially a French filmmaker of Vietnamese descent rather than a homegrown Vietnamese director. It brings up issues of how much of the film is contingent upon the “gaze” of the French—that is the colonizer’s gaze of the colonized.
Thanks, Doc. I think that’s a valid reading (fwiw).
“Trần was born in Vietnam ( Đà Nẵng, specifically) in 1962. The family emigrated to France in 1975. Trinh migrated to the United States in 1970 and has lived and work a pretty fair percentage of her life outside of Vietnam (she still teaches at Berkeley, right?). Are you saying this makes neither of them Vietnamese? Obviously living outside of Vietnam effects one’s perceptions, but . . .”
Trinh T. Minh-ha would probably answer that by saying, “yes and no.”
Cultural identity is not static.
Trinh would probably say she’s Vietnamese, American, Senegalese, a writer, a feminist, a filmmaker, a composer and a woman. And that not one of those trumps the other.
She also made a film about Vietnam outside of Vietnam. And her questions get to the heart of what it means to belong to any state or culture.
Most of southeast Asia is ethnically Chinese, but most of southeast Asia has a big problem with the Chinese.
Again, these questions are relevant and important because these films are about identity, either individually or culturally or globally. What strikes me about Tran’s film is how it, rather seamlessly, combines a multitude of genres (not unpredictably most popular in Asia and France).
To quote the man himself (on his page on this very website), “I adore American painting, German music, Japanese cinema and literature, Vietnamese contemporary work and Italian cuisine.”
“Trinh would probably say she’s Vietnamese, American, Senegalese, a writer, a feminist, a filmmaker, a composer and a woman. And that not one of those trumps the other.”
Yeah, ^that’s a good answer.
My God, how can anyone say anything negative about this film? If you’re used to american cinema, maybe I could understand, There are no explosions, no nudity and no chase scenes. The simple beauty, the connection to nature and the happy ending are so refreshing. I only wish I had found this film years ago.
The poem has to do with staying true to your own nature, your own spirit
For those who are interested, theres an even better Vietnamese film called The Owl and the Sparrow. Neorealist and shot without the use of sets.
How is it better?