Saturday, June 22, 2024

“VIET AND NAM”

THE STORY – In the depths of the underground coal mines, where danger awaits and darkness prevails, Nam and Viêt, both young miners, cherish fleeting moments, knowing that one of them will soon leave for a new life across the sea. But the departure cannot happen as lying somewhere deep within the earth, in the far-off forest is Nam’s father, a soldier, whose remains they’re compelled to find. Together, following the mysteries of memories and dreams, they retrace the path to the past.

THE CAST – Thanh Hai Pham, Duy Bao Dinh Dao, Thi Nga Nguyen, Viet Tung Le & Le Ho Lan

THE TEAM – Truong Minh Quý (Director/Writer)

THE RUNNING TIME – 129 Minutes


The year is 2001, and two young Vietnamese coal miners snatch moments of intimacy deep beneath the earth in Truong Minh Quy’s third feature-length film, the tender and thematically ambitious “Viet and Nam.”

One of the men, Nam (Thanh Hai Pham), dreams of leaving his country, much to the growing distress of his lover, Viet (Duy Bao Dinh Dao). Before he leaves, however, there is unfinished business. His mother (Thi Nga Nguyen) longs to find the final resting place of her husband and Nam’s father, a soldier who disappeared while fighting in the “Resistance War Against America,” as the Vietnam War is known in Vietnam. All she has are the ghosts of dreams, which she nevertheless believes to be leading her to him. She enlists the help of her husband’s old army buddy, Ba (Viet Tung Le), as well as a psychic (Le Ho Lan), who berates grieving families for their lack of faith but is then theatrically possessed by the dead. 

Through this story, Truong creates a series of spaces in which notions of past and present fold into each other and dissolve. The future – as represented by Nam’s wish to leave – is uncertain and necessarily displaced. Ghosts, dreams, and visions are at play, and Son Doan’s cinematography makes good use of the contrasts between the domestic and work spaces of the coal mine and village and the more luminous possibilities of the jungle and the underground depths.

There are beautiful images and immersive dioramas in which the soundscape is as important as what you see. The film begins as one man carries another man on his back through the dripping darkness. It is deceptive and opaque as an image. Are we seeing something from a war? The moment is tinged with the tenderly erotic, as will much of the film, but the blankness of the story means that emotional engagement with the characters is evasive. Sometimes, ordinary pragmatic mechanics are detailed explicitly, like how to open the lock of a shipping container or the relative merits of a stove, while essentials get lost in the ellipses. This reticence perhaps reflects the need of the two main characters to hide their love from the outside world. Other characters also have secrets. It is no spoiler to wonder if Ba knows more about the fate of his erstwhile comrade in arms than he is letting on.

“Viet and Nam” will have its admirers while at the same time being too esoteric for most cinema-goers. It occupies the middle ground between the extremes of slow cinema and a conventional-paced drama. As such, it might frustrate without fully rewarding. A final shot comes as a tragic hammer blow, but one somewhat softened by the film’s inaccessibility. Yet, its mixture of the translucent and the opaque, the luminous and the dark, brings something out of the shadows.

THE RECAP

THE GOOD - Beautiful to look at and spend time within its narrative ambitions.

THE BAD - A lack of narrative momentum and characterization blunts its emotional impact.

THE OSCAR PROSPECTS - None

THE FINAL SCORE - 7/10

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<b>THE GOOD - </b>Beautiful to look at and spend time within its narrative ambitions.<br><br> <b>THE BAD - </b>A lack of narrative momentum and characterization blunts its emotional impact.<br><br> <b>THE OSCAR PROSPECTS - </b>None<br><br> <b>THE FINAL SCORE - </b>7/10<br><br>"VIET AND NAM"