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Viet and Nam

In this spectral piece of slow cinema, two gay men reconcile their dirty and underground job with love - LGBT+ drama infused with positivity premieres at the 77th edition of the Festival de Cannes

QUICK AND DIRTY: LIVE FROM CANNES

A psychic says: “This is the flesh of your father’s head. The flesh has turned into black dirt.” Sewn through the context of Viet and Nam, such a quip has pathos, particularly as what follows is a work of grief, remorse and chicanery. In an effort to match the sadness in their surroundings, the characters infuse Truong Minh Quy’s world with a variety of sentiments littered across the emotional spectrum. Knitted alongside the core comes a romance between the titular characters, a homosexual pair that caress themselves above a valley of anthracite.

It’s a tale of two miners who have deep, passionate sex underground (in the literal and in the dirty sense). One of them, Nam in this case, likens sexual climax to the father he has never known: “Every time I am about to cum, my eyes close tightly. I see a faceless man, wearing a soldier’s uniform.” Positioned in a place that desecrates the body as badly as the mind, the duo lean on one another for guidance. Nam’s mother says she is led by prophetic dreams, portraitures of a man lost in transit.Vietnamese veteran Ba (Viet Tung Le) posits an image of where the man vanished to, in a landscape thronged with people paying good money to locate corpses; bringing closure to their minds.

Vietnam was devastated by the War, and in this yearning, dreamlike project, director Truong Minh Quy shows a maze, the labyrinth that grows weirder the longer the film carries on. An example of slow cinema exeeuted with aplomb, Viet and Nam drives along at a pace of its own making, which makes the silent moments – such as the shot of Nam reflecting on his father’s death via meditative techniques – all the more deafening, devastating and direct.

Nam and Viet are in love: hopelessly devoted to one another. Nam searches for closure, to gain a better understanding of the parent he lost, while Viet yearns for a better grasp on his relationship. This is a country of secrets: details that lie below the surface, festering and growing as it does so. Coal is a motif in the movie: floating just below the surface, it enters the digestive system, polluting bodies as a result. As is customary for this particular cinematic subject, most of the movie occurs on location, pivoting from the still sea to vast greenery overshadowing the humans underneath.

There is a psychic who claims she can communicate with spirits; a brag met with scepticism in certain corners. Women weep for the deaths with power and gusto; men recall their fallen comrades more stoically. Between these setpieces, audiences witness a pulsating sex scene, exhibiting every aspect of the male form. Schematically, the coitus not pornographic; more like a gay equivalent to the chamber romance between husband and wife in Don’t Look Now (Nicolas Roeg,1973). Nam needs Viet, like a fish strives for water. Charcoal sits beside the couple, yet their copulation continues.

Driven by emotion and intellect rather than character or narrative development, Viet and Nam proffers some moments of genuine reflection. The men sit with an elderly couple who gently ask when they will marry. Chuckling thoughtfully, neither knows how to respond, before the query is rephrased to incorporate women. Outside their cave mixed with carbon and filth, Quy’s heroes struggle to adjust to societal norms. In this world, gay men pose as brothers: one of the few acceptable excuses to share a birthday cake in a public restaurant together.

Traditionally, LGBT+ cinema lacks the joie-de-vivre of heteronormative pictures (often dogged by characters with a lone, tragic fate), and while Quy doesn’t shy away from the darkness, Viet and Nam is infused with positivity and possibility. In this eerie environment of clairvoyants, past masters and widows comes a couple brave enough to lie on the dirt to reach the stars.

Viet and Nam is showing in the Un Certain Regard section of the 77th Cannes International Film Festival.


By Eoghan Lyng - 23-05-2024

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