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Archive for February 26th, 2018

by Jared Dec

When the Tenth Month Comes – Dang Nhat Minh

Vietnam 1984 95m

d Dang Nhat Minh w Dang Nhat Minh p Lan Nguyen

Van Le, Luu Viet Bao Dang, Phu Cuong Lai, Huu Muoi Nguyen, Minh Vuong Nguyen, Le Phong Trinh

When the tenth month comes, rice ripens in five-ton fields…

When one thinks of Southeast Asian cinema prior to the 1990’s, few can probably name more than a few films they have seen. Vietnamese cinema largely goes unmentioned full stop aside from the occasional nod to Tran Anh Hung’s European-influenced films from the 90’s. To me, perhaps one of the largest omissions in Allan’s massive tome was the lack of a single Vietnamese film. When one thinks of Vietnam in cinema, most will think of the blockbuster US films about the conflict there such as Apocalypse Now or Platoon. In fact, my interest in Vietnamese cinema was born from reading Roger Ebert’s Great Movies review of Apocalypse Now in middle school and a line standing out to me where Ebert claimed to have heard that Vietnamese films made in the Vietnam War era never referred to the Americans as Americans but rather simply “the enemy”. At the time, I was fascinated by the prospect of seeing Vietnamese films from that era for myself, though finding such films with English subtitles remains an erstwhile difficult process. I have seen enough to know Ebert’s source was wrong, Dat Kho (1973) in particular refers to Americans by name many times. However, the fact that no one corrected Ebert on this point, is proof enough that early Vietnamese cinema remains a great uncharted ocean for most film buffs. Francis Ford Coppola famously claimed Apocalypse Now was more than a movie about Vietnam, it was Vietnam. I will not dispute the greatness of his film, but perhaps the Vietnamese themselves are more qualified to make a movie about Vietnam than Coppola.

When the Tenth Month Comes is a rare thing for an early Vietnamese film. For one thing, the film is a tender romantic drama about the Vietnam War. Unlike the aforementioned Dat Kho or a number of other contemporary Vietnamese films of the era that I have seen (some of which are so obscure they aren’t on imdb), Tenth Month is not propaganda in really any way. In fact, the film is more of a study of Vietnam as a society and as a culture rather than an attack on imperialism. Perhaps that is why this film is usually the oldest Vietnamese film that gets mentioned by Vietnamese film buffs when the topic of what the greatest Vietnamese films are is mentioned. Duyen is a young actress in the North Vietnamese countryside whose husband, Tran, is killed in the Vietnam War. Duyen wishes to hide the truth of his death from his family, which is strange conceptually, but this trope appears in several Vietnamese films of the era so perhaps there is a cultural element I am missing. In order to maintain the facade, Duyen asks a schoolteacher who inadvertently becomes aware of her secret to write letters to her in-laws posing as her husband. What follows is Duyen’s internal struggles to reconcile her lack of honesty, her continued loyalty to her husband, and her growing feelings for the schoolteacher. (more…)

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