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In Session: Asian Cinema and the Cultural Cold War: Images of Diplomacy, Revolution, and Emerging Nations
2: Landscape, Identity, and War: The Poetic Revolutionary Cinema of North Vietnam
Monday, March 22, 2021
12:30pm – 2:00pm EDT
University of Oklahoma, United States
With few exceptions, the revolutionary cinema of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (DPR)—or North Vietnam—has received little attention in English-language scholarship. In an earlier essay (“Art in Propaganda: The Poetics and Politics of Vietnamese Revolutionary Cinema”), I offer a preliminary study of this unjustly ignored filmmaking tradition and try to make a case for its historical and aesthetic significance. Vietnamese revolutionary films, I argue, were not mere state-sponsored propaganda devoid of artistic values. Rather, they developed novel techniques of communication and engagement as filmmakers drew upon their national cultures and various cinematic traditions (such as socialist realism, Soviet montage, and the poetic cinema of Dovzhenko) and creatively utilized narratives, styles, and genres to assert their ideological standpoints. In this paper, I intend to deepen my inquiry by focusing on a central element of Vietnamese revolutionary cinema—i.e., its highly expressive use of nature and rural landscape. This propensity for expressive natural and pastoral imagery not only evokes an intense poetic lyricism but also serves as an affective site for articulating an “authentic” Vietnamese identity for political mobilization. Through close analyses of representative films (including Nguyễn Văn Thông and Trần Vũ’s The Passerine Bird [Con chim vành khuyên, 1962], Hải Ninh’s Miss Tham’s Forest [Rừng O Thắm, 1967], and Nguyễn Thụ’s Portrait Left Behind [Bức tranh để lại, 1970]), I seek to illuminate the essential role of landscape, both aesthetic and ideological, in Vietnamese revolutionary cinema and show how it has continued to inform and inspire Vietnamese films of the post-revolutionary era.