HÀ NỘI — In the late 19th century in rural Việt Nam, 14-year-old May is given away in an arranged marriage and becomes the third wife of a rich man.
Through the film The Third Wife, May tells the stories of Vietnamese women living in a society of polygamy and masculinity.
The film premiered in Hà Nội on Saturday after achieving various awards at international film festivals such as the NETPAC award at the Toronto International Film Festival 2018, the Best Art Film Project prize at the Autumn Meeting Forum for independent film producers, and other awards of the Hong Kong-Asia Film Financing Forum, the 24th Kolkata International Film Festival, and the 66th San Sebastian International Film Festival.
Through its plot, The Third Wife tells stories of Vietnamese women living in a society of polygamy and masculinity. — Photo courtesy of Mayfair Pictures
Director Nguyễn Phương Anh, who goes by Ash Mayfair, said the plot was inspired by the history of her family. Both her great-grandmother and grandmother entered into arranged marriages at a young age.
“It is a coming-of-age story, a tale of love and self-discovery in a time when women were rarely given a voice,” Mayfair said.
“The themes of women’s sexuality, the growth from childhood to adulthood and the individual’s struggle within a conservative patriarchal society have always fascinated me,” she said.
“I grew up in Việt Nam, a society that held traditions, history, and community to be more valuable than personal independence. The heroine of this story embarks on a journey where her identity must assume many roles, that of a child, a woman, a wife, a lover, and eventually a mother."
In the film, May learns she can gain status and security if she gives birth to a male. However, the arrival of her child, a baby girl, makes a struggle imminent.
As May observes the unfolding tragedy of forbidden love, she must make a choice, to either carry on in silence and safety, or forge a way towards personal freedom.
Mayfair made the film with the belief that the story should be told because the themes explored and the lives unfolded carry universal significance.
“The struggle between an individual’s desires and the duty owed to one’s family affects people of every class, race and gender. Girls and women everywhere still suffer from a lack of education and professional opportunities, even in modern, developed societies,” she said.
“This film has moments that are blunt, uncomfortable, harrowing and painful. However, I hope that it will also be forgiving, generous, humorous, loving and sensual, much like the many lives I have had the privilege to witness.”
The crew tried to make the film as authentic as possible in terms of historical detail, using real locations untouched by modern development, forcing them to hike to remote mountainous regions.
“So much of what was discovered in these natural environments, such as the growth and harvest of silk worms, the different birdsongs, the fog and mist caused by changing weather, became prominent visual themes in the film,” said Mayfair.
The search for an actress who could play the titular role also took nearly eight months and more than 900 girls in middle and high schools auditioned for the part, which was played by Nguyễn Phương Trà My.
“My wish is that the film will be the first of many stories about humanity and its complex beauty that I will get to tell and that the movie will take on a life of its own to touch and inspire other artists to do the same, including young girls who may want to share their own stories in the future,” said Mayfair.
The film also stars Vietnamese-born French actress Trần Nữ Yên Khê, People’s Artist Nguyễn Như Quỳnh, Mai Cát Vi (who starred in recent action blockbuster Furie), and Meritorious Artist Bùi Trung Anh. — VNS