|Director Trần Anh Hùng. VNS Photo Minh Thu|
Famous Vietnamese-French movie director Trần Anh Hùng marks his return after years working in silence premiering the latest film Eternite (Eternity) at cinemas from September 9. He talks with Minh Thu about the passion.
Trần Anh Hùng was born in Đà Nẵng in 1962 and moved to France at the age of 12. He studied at the prestigious film school Louis Lumiere College. He is considered to be at the forefront of a wave of acclaimed overseas Vietnamese cinema in the past two decades. His films have received international notoriety and acclaim, and until recently they had all been varied meditations on life in Việt Nam.
His Oscar-nominated debut (for Best Foreign Film) was The Scent of Green Papaya (1993), which also won two top prizes at the Cannes Film Festival, and his follow-up Cyclo (1995) that won a top prize at the Venice International Film Festival.
Hùng is also known for his adaptation of Norwegian Wood by Japanese writer Haruki Murakami into a movie of the same name, which was released in 2012.
Inner Sanctum: Would you tell us something about the film Eternite?
It is about the love of couples and the maternal love of three women during wartime in France. They have to overcome adversity and brave all sorts of difficulties in life.
The film gathers Audrey Tautou, Berenice Bejo and Melanie Laurent, three movie stars of the French cinema. I’m so lucky that they all loved the story and agreed to work with each other in this film.
My wife, Trần Nữ Yên Khê, served as the narrator and art director for the film. All the details including costumes, furniture and scenes are selected by her. She is better in French than in Vietnamese. In this film, she has a chance to showcase her voice. There are only a few dialogues between characters. They communicate with each other mostly by gestures and glints of expression.
The story is narrated by Khê and the 110-minute long sound of piano and guitar.
Inner Sanctum: What inspired you to adapt the novel L’Elegance des veuves (Elegance of Widows) for film?
The book brings me a special feeling that’s hard to explain. It’s very emotional for me. I cried from page to page. It made me think about life, happiness, sorrow and what remains after a loss.
It just urged me to make a film after reading it. I wanted to transfer the emotion I felt to the audience.
Inner Sanctum: For you, what’s eternal in this life?
Through the film, I want to tell the audience about the eternity of life. That’s the reason why I changed the name of the original. One day, I will die, but it’s not important because someone will be born. Eternity happens when a man and woman meet, fall in love and have children. During your life, you witness people born and die. That’s the circle of life.
In the film, you will see that the women suffer loss when their beloved ones pass away. It’s sad, but it’s not too mournful and tragic. Because soon another happiness will come and wipe the sorrow away.
Inner Sanctum: The story is told in the language of cinematography. Do you think that there is a difference between the story in the film and the one in the novel?
No, it’s definitely true to the original. When I finished the film and watched it, I had the same feeling as when I read the novel. I was totally satisfied with the achievement of sharing my emotion with the audience.
Inner Sanctum: The film is quite selective regarding its audience; it is different from entertainment blockbusters. Do you have any pressures about the box office proceeds?
I believe that some people may feel tetchy because they don’t understand the film or they can’t stand its slow motion. It’s slow because I want the audience to have enough time to feel the characters’ emotions and thoughts and to live inside the characters’ lives.
Yes, it’s different. But I don’t have any pressure about selling tickets. I just worry if the audience regrets buying the tickets. The film is a kind of artwork that I present to the audience, each viewer has his or her own feelings about it.
Inner Sanctum: Why have you always pursued art film during your career? Do you ever think of making a commercial film on commission?
I can’t do something which is not for myself. Sometimes I receive several scripts at the same time, but I decide to work on what inspires me.
Inner Sanctum: Do you have anything you regret?
I spent 12 years making the thriller I Come with the Rain (2009), which featured a star-studded international cast including Josh Hartnett, Lee Byung-hun, Kimura Takuya and Elias Koteas. However, I didn’t agree with the producer so the film has never been screened. I still dream that one day I have enough money to reproduce it.
Inner Sanctum: Would you reveal your plans for the near future?
Well, I expect that I will make one film every two years, however, due to limited budgets and sponsorship, I have only made six films to date.
So, beside making films, I will make pottery. In the near future, I will showcase my own brand. Pottery is very different from films. I can do it anytime I want. It’s easy and relaxing for me.
Eternite is based on the novel L’Elegance des veuves (Elegance of Widows) by Alice Ferney. She was born in 1961 in Paris. The novelist has six highly acclaimed works including Angelina’s Children which won the literary prize Culture et Bibliotheques pour Tous.
The novel L’Elegance des veuves has been translated into Vietnamese by Lê Ngọc Mai and published by Nhã Nam Culture and Communications Company. The film is screening worldwide. In Việt Nam, it is presented by Green Media Company at L’Espace, the National Cinema Centre and Platinum Times City (Hà Nội) and BHD Star (HCM City). The launch of Trần Anh Hùng’s movie is among the cultural activities during State visit to Việt Nam by France’s President Francois Hollande. VNS