Viet Nam NewsSaigon
, a play written and directed by Caroline Guiela Nguyen about the painful migration of the Vietnamese people after the First Indochina War (1946-1954) has won plaudits in HCM City following its success at the 71st Avignon Festival. She talks with Vương Bạch Liên about the play in French.
Were you inspired by the story of your Vietnamese mother who went to France after the war?
I was with comedians from Les Hommes Approximatifs and we had a meal at a Vietnamese restaurant in Paris. .
We decided to invent a story inside a Vietnamese restaurant in France. It was the starting point for the project. The play is inspired by history, but we invented the characters.
Why did you choose to focus on this period?
I chose it because the topic is rarely mentioned in France and remains unknown to many people, and also because it was a crucial turning point in history
In France, this question of exile is rarely mentioned, even in history lessons at school. It is difficult to find archives about the period from 1956 to 1996
How long did you prepare for the play?
We spent two years preparing this play and three months to repeat it.
During those two years, I spent time between France and HCM City to immerse myself in the atmosphere here.
What were your impressions when you come back to Việt Nam, the homeland of your mother?
I had two very distinct impressions.
The country is wonderful, but when I first arrived, I was very uncomfortable. During my childhood and adolescence, everyone told me that I had Vietnamese origins. But when I came to Vietnam, I felt that I was French. There were many things that I found familiar: the food, language and the faces that looked my uncle, my mother, my grandparents. But there was a big gap between my life in Việt Nam and my life in France.
It took me 20 years to find my place in Việt Nam.
I spent time studying its history, meeting local people, making new friends…and only now I feel that I have had strong links with this country. It’s what’s changed inside me thanks to this play.
What did your mother say about the play?
She has watched all my plays since the beginning. She was very happy to watch Saigon.
I think actually the most important thing is that it allowed a discussion between us.
Working on this play I came to understand many new things and the connection with my mother and Việt Nam.
And what did other people tell you about the play?
Many Vietnamese people living in France have visited the show. They told me that they were moved and grateful because they recognised their own stories.
Many people told me that they cried. Even though the French people are getting more and more interested in their colonial history, this Vietnamese tragedy is still largely forgotten.
I am happy to talk about it. What I always want in my work is to tell the stories of people who are never told on stage. Many spectators have thanked me for breaking this silence. — VNS