[Wanderlust Tips April 2019] I have an old habit of noticing the places featured in movies, and all of these have created strong feelings of affection that are enchanting and sparkling for me. Apparently, movies are not merely for entertainment, stunningly beautiful scenes enchantingly captured by talented directors have touched my heart and encouraged me to start an adventure to explore my own country.
PHU YEN IS AS SWEET AS CHILDHOOD IN I SAW THE YELLOW FLOWERS ON THE GREEN GRASS
Until one October day a few years ago, I did not often pay attention to Vietnamese movies in the cinemas, preferring TV series with characters and life stories profoundly pictured and told in a series of episodes. At that time, I heard my friends excitedly talking about the movie I saw the yellow flowers on the green grass, which was based on a novel of the same title by the author Nguyen Nhat Anh and directed by Victor Vu. Filled with curiosity by the praise for the movie from the media and also because of my admiration for the author Nguyen Nhat Anh, I decided to go to the cinema to watch the film only to find my earlier prejudices disappear, replaced by admiration and passion.
The movie is about two brothers, Thieu and Tuong, who both grew up in a poor coastal village in the late 1980s. Thieu loves reading books, and while he loves his brother a lot, he is sometimes jealous of him. Tuong, on the other hand, idolises his brother and follows him everywhere he goes. The appearance of Man, the brother’s first crush and the heartfelt brotherhood of Thieu and Tuong touch the hearts of people born in the 1970s and 1980s and remind them of their long-lost childhood memories.
The movie is neither too fast-paced nor sorrowful. It is just about little stories of everyday life in a poor countryside area in the centre of Vietnam, but those very tiny pieces are connected to create a painting of unforgettable childhood memories of each and every countryside child like me. The movie evoked nostalgic feelings and brought me back to familiar and peaceful surroundings. Phu Yen, the name alone can provoke multiple feelings. Probably due to growing up in a poor countryside region on the central coast, I could somehow relate and fall deeply in love with the peaceful scenes in the movie.
Following the storyline of the movie, I go to a sugarcane field in Hinh River district, where the green of sugarcane and grass along with the blue of the sky above spread as far as the eyes can see. The breeze runs its fingers through the fields, forming a lively song with beautiful notes. At the next destination, the abundant rice and corn fields of Tuy An district are opening out in the golden sunshine in front of my eyes. Incredible Xep beach is full of cactuses, making it look like a painting of resilience in the harsh conditions and evoking differing feelings in an adventurer. The blue sky blending with the colour of the vast ocean and the green of the immense grasslands make even the harsh sunlight tender and comfortable on the eyes.
Walking along the cliffs and listening to the distant waves, I feel as if my feelings are harmonising with the sea. The beautiful childhood memories are playing as in a slowmotion movie right before my eyes when I am standing on a golden sand beach on such a wind-blown day. The feelings the movie has evoked in me are not only nostalgic memories, but beyond that, they are an inseparable part of the picturesque land in the centre of the country. They help warm up the hearts of central-born people living away from home and remind us to come back to our homeland sometime very soon.
Every now and then, whenever I feel homesick, I saw yellow flowers on the green grass is still my go-to choice to indulge myself in the scent of my hometown in those tranquil movie scenes.
SILENT UNDER THE DARK ABYSS AND A BEAUTIFUL BUT SORROWFUL HA GIANG
For those who love travelling to the mountains, when your legs seem to need a rest, try sitting down and watching Silent under the dark abyss by director Dao Duy Phuc. A mountainous vibe is highlighted in every scene, making me watch it over and over again just to satisfy my eyes with the scenery of the rocky highlands.
Silent under the dark abyss is the passionate yet tragic love story of the two main characters, Vu and Sua. They love each other, but their love story does not seem destined to have a happy ending when Sua is kidnapped to become the wife of Phong, the son of a wealthy family. The love between Vu and Sua is thought to end, but with a desire for freedom and formidable instinct, Sua does not surrender her destiny. Likewise, although he sometimes feels so desperate that he wants to give up, Vu follows the call of his heart. The passionate love of Vu and Sua thrives like those flowers gorgeously blooming on rocky outcrops.
The landscape of far northern Ha Giang is stunningly beautiful with amazingly extensive mountain ranges, poetic valleys of buckwheat flowers, and multiple layers of rugged rock. It has also witnessed the love story of the H’mong couple in the TV series Silent under the dark abyss. Fields of buckwheat flowers swaying in the wind among high rocky mountains remind people of the shyness of a young H’mong woman beside her sweetheart. The very light pink and purple colours of these flowers on the barren highlands represent the eternity of love.
Obsolete traditions, poverty, and hatred have to surrender to resilience and passion, just like how buckwheat flowers have kept blooming every year to move the hearts of visitors.
Silent under the dark abyss does not only reveal immense natural landscapes with sharp rocky mountains pointing bristly and boldly into the sky, images of houses behind stone fences, or the colourful skirts of H’mong women, it also brings Ha Giang closer to the audience with its customs and traditions. Its culture is shown in festivals, weddings, gentle folk songs, and the sound of flutes echoing in the forests. H’mong people were born among rocks, grow up with rocks and always nurture a pure love in their heart. Just like Ha Giang, their homeland, they are innocent and humble yet strong, self-respectful and always long for true love.
Many movies are set in Ha Giang. Besides Silent in the dark abyss, other well-known productions also include Father and Son by director Luong Dinh Dung, Red Sky directed by Olivier Lorelle and Pao’s story by Ngo Quang Hai. After indulging in these movies, many people leave a piece of their hearts in the mountains of Ha Giang.
INDOCHINE, THE BEAUTY OF VIETNAM THROUGH THE EYES OF THE FRENCH
I used to spend large amounts of time seeking the images of this S-shaped country in foreign films just to find the answer to my very own question: How is my country seen through the eyes of foreign people? And I finally found it in the movie Indochine.
The director of photography, François Catonné, once said “I have left my heart in this place” when he came to Vietnam to work on this film. It is undoubtedly true that Vietnam has always held a miraculous attraction for the world’s filmmakers thanks to its simple and humble but wideranging beauty. The renowned Indochine is also a valuable source for history buffs who want to know more about the social settings of that period.
I was made aware of the film by my school history teacher who told us stories about colonial times and the challenges and hardships faced by people from different classes in society. Those stories were like mysterious seeds, arousing curiosity in me. After that, I watched the film so attentively that I completely lost track of time, and Vietnam, as shown in the film, was the heart of Indochina.
Despite being well-known after winning an Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film in 1993, Indochine was not officially screened in Vietnam until 2016 at the Hanoi International Film Festival. The audience excitedly went to watch the film they had heard so much about for such a long time and adored a magnificent Vietnam through the scenes of the French film.
Indochine is a film set in colonial French Vietnam from the 1930s to 1950s. Although set over 70 years ago, many values present in the film still remain important even as time goes by. Made by the French, the film is about the very colonial land they lost and displays in detail the war in which they were defeated. Nevertheless, the film does not defend or attack either side, showing a subjective awareness of history, and of the people of the colonial country where the French were vanquished. That is the very reason why I find it both touching and exciting to watch.
My heart was deeply moved when I witnessed the sacred love between Éliane Devries and her daughter Camille, or the complicated nature of the love triangle between both of them and the good-looking officer Jean-Baptiste Le Guen. Eventually, the lives of all three characters were sent into a swirl with the surprising changes of the time, leading them onto separate paths.
However, since the media have seemingly used all the most outstanding words in the world to describe the massively famous Indochine, as a person who is meticulous about different film shots, I always pay more attention to places and locations in films and Indochine has completely won me over in this.
The director harnesses the beauty of Vietnam very well and makes it look magnificent through the eyes of a foreigner. It is a pristine but gorgeous Vietnam gradually entering into a new era. Each and every scene is carefully considered, and that very meticulousness of filmmakers has created an authentic and amazing Vietnam in the film.
It is no exaggeration to say that Indochine is a masterpiece and a precious jewel in the image of Vietnam. To be honest, I used to think that our country might seem poor and rundown during wartime, but when the first scene of Ha Long Bay (Quang Ninh) was shown on the screen, I was astonished as it was still so stunningly beautiful. Ha Long Bay appears many times in the film, leaving gentle impressions in the mind of the audience and while watching the film, I knew in my mind that I would definitely go to that place.
The scenes in Ninh Binh have most vividly put on display its pristine beauty, which is somehow, really Indochine. A quiet and solemn Hue has played an essential role in telling the stories of the French in Vietnam in the period between 1939 and 1950. The then authority even allowed the crew to set up and film inside the palace of King Bao Dai.
Indochine is not limited to any one setting, but there are many locations from all around Vietnam. For those who understand the film through their ultimate empathy and observation will see it as a beautiful but sad depiction. The expansive and magnificent sceneries create the beauty, and sadness comes from the fact that the beauty is meaningless when the whole country is struggling under colonial rule.
Blended in amongst the amazing scenes are the resilience and powerful spirits of the Vietnamese people. I felt pity and compassion for those sweating workers manually tapping rubber in the rubber plantations during the night by the flickering light of torches. Theatre troupes travelling from place to place to encourage people to rise up, or communist soldiers so persistently waiting for the right time to fight for the country. Through this, Indochine does not just make me astonished at the beauty of the landscapes of my homeland, it also connotes the incredible beauty of my fellow people. I did not miss one bit of emotion during the 2 hours and 40 minutes of the film in which a blurred image of Vietnam that I could only read about in books appeared so vividly in front of my eyes.
Just like me, other Vietnamese must be so proud to see their country from the perspective of foreigners. And for foreigners, on the other hand, Indochine has played an important role in inspiring and urging them to come to Vietnam, a small but powerful and exceptionally beautiful country.
Every movie evokes different feelings and impressions depending on each individual’s perceptions. Some people might take watching a movie as slowly as drinking tea to enjoy the lingering aftertaste of it. Some others, however, inspire their dreams of travelling through films. I myself not only enjoy watching movies about my Vietnam over and over again to nurture greater feelings for them, I also want to see the landscapes in them in reality in my trips. It might be true that we do not need to go somewhere far as there are still many amazing places and stories waiting for us to explore and give our hearts to in our very own country.
Thi Thi | Wanderlust Tips