“Nostalgia for the countryside” (Thương nhớ đồng quê) (1995)

“My name is Nham. I was born in the countryside…” The film starts by a brief introduction of the main character, leading the audiences to the scenery of the countryside in harvest time. This film was directed by the notable director Dang Nhat Minh, who had received lots of kudos from his colleagues in his famous film “Season of guava”. Mr Dang Nhat Minh, in “Nostalgia for the countryside” – adapted from a famous novel with the same name written by Nguyen Huy Thiep., continued to bring to audiences with an excellent masterpiece, portraying the picture of the rural area of Vietnam in the 1980s or so. The rural area in his film was picturesque, and peaceful, however, underlying many heart-rending stories, reflecting the plight in the countryside.

The storyline was very simple. Nham was the main character of the film. In fact, if I resort to the definition about main character of films, or novels written in the textbooks, I will be uncertain about defining Nham as the main character, because in this movie, Nham was the storyteller, witnessing the stories of almost every people in his hometown, relating it in an objective manner. Though objective it is, we, the audiences, still find out his emotion hidden in his voice. Sorry for the digression. I will come back to the storyline. Nham was a 17-year-old boy, dropping out of school due to his family’s financial condition. He stayed at home, helping her mother and her sister-in-law with the work in the paddy field. His brother was a worker in a mine in Cao Bang, which is very far from Ba Vi – his hometown. Ky – his brother’s name – was said to have followed another woman, crossing the border, which made his sister-in-law – called Ngu upset. They had married for 5 years but Ky had just come home twice, worse still, each time just lasted for no more than 3 days. Nham had an uncle, called Phung who had been a soldier but retired, depending on the remittance from his brother-in-law living in Germany. Phung had an intimate relationship with a single woman in the village. This single woman was the so-called second wife of an old teacher, who was Ngu’s father. Nham also had an aunt, who had a niece named Quyen, just coming back from abroad. Nham also had a younger sister, named Minh. If you find it frustrated to remember all the names of the characters as well as the relationships between them, don’t be panicked. The name of character has nothing to do with the storyline as the whole. The storyline of this film is not the same as the ones you may have seen from another movie. There is not much point that makes people thrilled. It is just the narration of everything happening in the countryside witnessed by Nham. Everybody has his own story, which makes it difficult for us to judge whether they are right or wrong. Nham dropped out from school because his family could not afford the school fee. His sister-in-law was waiting for his brother in vain. The second wife of the old teacher had intimate relationship with the other man due to her lack of love. The aunt next door had lost her son, who sacrificed in the war, leaving his wife living a silent life at home. Quyen, a girl coming back from abroad, on whom Nham had a crush on for a while, had passed a lot of difficulties to get out of Vietnam, screwed by the life for many times, and now living in a hustle-bustle city far away from her motherland. The story is just that simple. The countryside, while beautiful and peaceful outside, concealed inside many poignant stories, many serious conflicts, which were poised to explode at any time. Fortunately, or unfortunately, I wonder, the conflicts did not go off any time in the film. If it be, it was just like a small wave rising in the ocean, immediately disappeared. Life in Nham’s village is the same. There exist many conflicts in the countryside, which were like the gentle waves relentless lapping on the sand, and disappearing. However, its disappearance does not reassure the audiences but haunt them, get them concerned about the life of the farmers living in the countryside. Farmers account for the majority of Vietnam population. It is farmer, who produces rice, the leading export product of Vietnam. It is farmer, who contributes a great deal of support to the victory of Vietnam in both the wars with France and American. It is still farmer, who suffers a lot from the pain caused by the war. However, when it comes to peace time, they seem not to get appropriate attention from the government. The bitter conversation between Nham’s teacher and Quyen spoke volumes about it. . Despite the progress made in Vietnam, a convenient and happy life is still a far-fetching dream to almost every people living in the countryside.  Farmers were screwed by many other classes in the society. They made the product but sold it at a very cheap price, leaving the merchants with a great deal of money. Their life was trapped in a vicious circle, poverty, lack of knowledge, poverty, again and again. The saving grace of all these heart-rending stories may be the two children, Minh and Mi, the younger sisters of Nham and Quyen, respectively. Minh and Mi had brought to the audiences little hope about the changes in the countryside. Unfortunately, the two little girls were killed in a car accident, which could be considered a climax of the whole movie, giving the villagers have chances to take aside all their own worries, staying together. At the end of the movie, Nham was called into the military, stepping on his father’s way. He got out of the village, getting to know much more things which he had never seen. On the way to the military camp, Nham started to write very first sentence on the notebook presented by his sister-in-law, “My name is Nham, and I miss my hometown a lot and I will come back…” which put an end to the story. The story though came to the end, still made audiences think much about it. Nham got out of the hometown, his family and relatives still did their daily activities. They still followed the routine, which had been established for thousands of years. But the promise to come back to his hometown of Nham somehow raised a glimmer of hope in the audiences.

The success of the film can first ascribe to the beautiful landscape of the countryside. Audiences are highly satisfied with the luxuriant and ever-expanding paddy field, the bamboo mirroring in the small pond, the small lane leading through the village, the mountain far and far away, the river, etc. All of these things conjure up the image of the countryside in many Vietnamese people’s minds. Secondly, it is the actors that make the success of film. Unlike the famous ones appearing on many kinds of tabloid nowadays, the actors and actresses of “Nostalgia for the countryside” are both from the countryside, which created the authenticity for the film. They are not as beautiful and tinsel-like as the stuff appearing daily on newspapers but act with all their hearts and their understanding of the countryside. It is a pity that I have not seen them from any other movies anymore. Original sound track is also an important component of the film. The film is filled with many traditional songs, which help create a feeling of tranquility of the countryside. Thuy Huong (starred as Ngu) is a famous singer in traditional music, therefore, audiences have chances to listen to her beautiful voice during the movie. Then, audiences also have opportunities to look back on many traditional customs of Vietnamese people, such as going to pagoda, preparing for the ceremony in the pagoda, traditional dance as rituals, or water puppetry. The conversation of the movie was meaningful, which invoked audiences to think much of the destiny of the countryside of Vietnam. The movie was filmed in 1995; 7 years later, the story depicted in it is still a burning issue in Vietnam. This issue is even worse when the rate of modernization has been accelerated, leading to the widening gap between the city and the countryside. Even though government has taken steps to support the farmers, there still exist many issues which have not been solved thoroughly.

Every film often brings me a brand-new experience, and this film is not an exception. At first, I am not too excited about watching this movie though one friend of mine has strongly recommended it to me. It is not until I could not get accessed to Internet that I opened this movie. The unpredictable and some kind of monotonous storyline really made me curious. I did not dare to fast forward the movie but enjoyed every sentence, every beautiful scene of the movie. And when it was about 3 minutes left to the end, I was in some kind of worry and curiosity. I worry about what would happen to each character, what would come next to their life. The movie ended but it still exerts a significant impression on my mind, making me think hard about the life belied in the countryside.

For more in-depth review, have a look at the reviews of the film in Vietnamese. And for the ones, who have got fed up with the city stuff churned out every day on the television nowadays, here comes the link of the movie. Enjoy and think, critically!


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