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ĎFeministí Vietnamese film lauded abroad (December 04, 2005)

Though you wonít see it in Vietnamese theatres, Bride of Silence, reviewed as a Ďfeministí Vietnamese film, is certainly garnering quite a lot of acclaim overseas. Perhaps domestic cinemas will hear the noise. Duc Thanh reports.

After ten years in the making, the "feminist" film Bride of Silence was recently screened at the Sydney Film Festival. Written and directed by siblings Doan Minh Phuong and Doan Thanh Nghia, who have lived in Germany for ten years, Bride of Silence is about a young man who tries to discover the truth about his mother, a beautiful woman who became pregnant out of wedlock. She was punished by her fellow villagers and pushed out onto the river so she would float away. Each villager tells a different story about her, and the womanís image becomes merely a composite sketch of othersí gazes. ... talks with Doan Minh Phuong to learn the stories behind the making of the film and the secret to its success.

Inner sanctum: You first intended to write a novel, why did you decide to turn your story into a film?

Sometimes, literature can be adapted to suit the silver screen. However, sometimes the best medium for a story is film, as it can capture visual reality in a more immediate and compelling way, particularly when the story involves villagers "looking at" or "judging" a fallen woman.

Inner sanctum: After ten years of preparations, are there still things you wish you had done differently?

Yes. The film is very detailed, and some of the scenes could be more attractive. The story itself is rather long, and I was too greedy, trying to fit all the flashbacks into the film. Perhaps other first-time directors have made similar mistakes.

Inner sanctum: You were born in HCM City, so why did you choose Ha Noi for shooting?

I have a complicated love for the North of Viet Nam. Ha Noi is like a beautiful but fastidious girl, who sometimes makes me tired. But the city has many charming locations, particularly in autumn. It glistens. It is the cradle of Vietnamese culture; the small pagodas, temples and alleys are steeped in history. The more I come here, the more I feel it.

Inner sanctum: Is that why famous historical and cultural sites, such as Tram Pagoda, Dau Pagoda, Phu Lang pottery village (in Bac Ninh Province), and particularly Ba Be Lake, appear in your film?

Yes. And regarding Ba Be, several movie crews have tried to film there, but they gave up, as the lake is very deep and there is no electric grid network around. So we are the first production to use Ba Be for some shots, and we received great support from the local people, who helped us transport machinery and other equipment.

Inner sanctum: The stunning visuals in your film are accompanied by ca tru music (Vietnamese classical songs), creating an overwhelming feeling of melancholy? Why did you choose this style?

I love Vietnamese classical music like ca tru (ceremonial) and cheo (traditional operetta). I love music above all else. For me, itís a way to introduce this music to foreign audiences. Before each screening, I felt very anxious. But luckily, the Vietnamese classical music won over the audiences and closed the gap between the viewers and the characters, proving music has no barriers.

Inner Sanctum: Most of your actors were amateurs. How did this affect the film?

Of course, there were difficulties. If you work with professional actors, they need a little guidance but usually get the idea quickly. With amateurs, you must start from scratch.

Inner Sanctum: Will you continue to use inexperienced actors in your next films?

Of course. Our styles seem to fit together, and I want to showcase their natural ability. I was delighted when the media and audiences applauded my actors. At the Rotterdam Festival, they were called "pure", and then "impressive" and "sharp" at the New Zealand film festival. We all found this a great encouragement.

Inner sanctum: Are you disappointed your film has not screened at some Viet Namís large cinemas?

In Viet Nam and in other countries, itís best to have different kinds of movies, and different cinemas for different audiences. If 90 per cent of the films produced are purely for entertainment, there is still 10 per cent left for art. Itís unfair to disregard either style. However, as far as I am concerned, there are many valuable Vietnamese films, but the domestic public has seen only a few of them.

Inner sanctum: National and private cinemas have refused to show your film. Why?

They think my movie will attract small crowds. Even though I have offered to pay for each screening, they usually say something about preserving their reputation.

Inner sanctum: Did you know that other films by overseas Vietnamese directors, such as Buffalo Boy by Nguyen Vo Nghiem Minh and A Distant Past by Ho Quang Minh, have also suffered the same treatment?

I always follow the domestic film market. If those two films eventually find favour with Vietnamese audiences, I will be encouraged. By the way, I donít want to be called overseas Vietnamese. That distinction is unnecessary. Overseas or not, we are all Vietnamese.

Inner sanctum: Your story is about a boy looking for his mother and his history. Is there a message you are trying to send?

When you are at home, people donít ask who you are. But once you go abroad, "who are you?" and "where do you come from?" are very important questions. If you couldnít answer, you couldnít live peacefully. I must know who I am and what I am trying to do. Many people decide they are Americans when they come to the US. But after ten years in Germany, I am still a Vietnamese.

Inner Sanctum: Will you continue to do films about the past or will your next movie be more modern?

I intend to do both. Also, I love Sai Gon (HCM City) and want to set a movie there. However, the cityís atmosphere is always bustling. I have to wait for quiet moments to discover new things for myself.

Inner Sanctum: Is that nostalgia?

I loved the Sai Gon of the past, with its verdant green foliage and tranquil atmosphere. But it would be selfish to reject the cityís changes. I am trying to make its acquaintance all over again. Life changes, and the youth today are like me when I was their age. The city now belongs to them.

Inner Sanctum: So, what is your next film?

I have selected some scripts, and several have already won prizes. But Vietnamese people often say: "Donít reveal before you succeed." So, I am not going to reveal anything more. ó VNS Reprinted with permission from Vietnam News Agency


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