festival dates

Courtisane festival, notes on cinema, 23nd edition, 27 - 31 March 2024

Surname Viet Given Name Nam

Trinh T. Minh-ha
,
US
,
1989
,
16mm
,
108'

“A Vietnamese woman making a film on Vietnamese women: What could sound more familiar and correct in today’s context of cultural diversity and liberal pluralism?” And yet, says Trinh T. Minh-ha, self-representation and representation is a responsibility one cannot afford to merely reject. In order to break away from that kind of authorized subjectivity, she chose for a number of itineraries that would allow her to show “the culture” without endorsing the insider’s authority. This was largely done by avoiding the so-called factual historical information that one easily gets in history books on Vietnam, and by working with the more slippery realms of oral tradition and popular memory: the songs, sayings, proverbs that expose women’s condition; the stories that people remember of the historical heroines of Vietnam; and the life stories of contemporary Vietnamese women. In parallel, Trinh T. Minh-ha also emphasises the politics of the interview by drawing on a series of interviews that had been conducted in Vietnam by another woman of the Vietnamese diaspora (Mai Thu Van), translated and published in French, re-translated into English by herself, and then re-enacted in the film. In this way, both the role of translation in film and the role of film as a form of translation are problematised.

 

It’s not a return in a physical sense, but a return in the sense that I made my two previous films in Africa before making Surname Viet – a film in which I have finally been able to come to terms with Vietnam or with a national identity; a film focusing on Vietnamese women or on female identity and difference. That’s why it was extremely important for me not to approach it from a legitimized “insider’s” point of view, but rather from a number of spaces locating me somewhere between an insider and an outsider. Spaces manifested, for example, in the acknowledgment of the media­tor’s role; in the multiplicity of translation, of the “you” referred to by the interviewees, and of first­person narratives; and in the exposing of the politics of interviews involved.

 

English spoken