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SURNAME VIET, GIVEN NAME NAM

USA, 1989 (MIFF 1990, Documentaries)

Director: Trin T. Minh-ha

A literate, rewarding work of surprising emotional power, writer-director Trin T. Minh-ha's latest film analyses Vietnamese culture by concentrating on the history of its women in both Vietnam and the United States. This stylistically expansive and highly personal documentary uses staged interviews with five Vietnamese women as its focus but combines these interviews with archival material, graphics, dance footage, photographs, poetry and song to create a film of unusual rigor and grace.

Its unconventional editing, mulit-layered voice and music soundtrack, non-linear structure and complex barrage of subtitles, quotations and an on-screen rendition of the spoken testimonies, may at first overwhelm the viewer, but soon weave a mesmerising fabric.

As if this weren't enough the film's gradual unravelling of its own production process - staged interviews, carefully researched - creates yet another level of interest reflecting on the nature of documentary, the politics of media images and the fiction of verite.

"Trinh's premise is that, without individuality, feminism cannot flourish, and socialism stifles both. Both sensual and painful, this film reminds us how little we know of Asian culture, of the humility induced by colonization, and of the refinement and dignity that is the final resort of the submissive Vietnamese woman. The "liberation" of Vietnam, Trinh reminds us, was anything but liberating for women who are, whether doctors or wives, habitually forced into infuriating compromises.

Independent in thought and delicate in craftsmanship, the film is strung with the tensile strength of piano wire." - Karen Jaehne, Film Comment

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