Discover the rich history and hidden gems of Hanoi through the lens of cinema. Films of high artistic value provide a visual journey into the past while uncovering the lesser-known aspects of the city in the present.

Hanoi through the Cinematic Perspective

Hanoi youth in the 1990s, A scene from the movie “Please, Forgive Me!” by Luu Trong Ninh.

On March 19, the experimental film “Blue/Green – Night Films in Hanoi” by Vu Thi Lan Huong was streamed online on the YouTube channel of the Centre for Assistance and Development of Movie Talents (TPD).

This 10-minute-long film offers a kaleidoscope of surprising resonances from various currents in Vietnamese cinema. The night becomes a space that inspires endless creativity and analogies.

The film screening takes viewers on a journey through a collection of short films, each with unique characters, stories, and storytelling techniques.

An unidentified robot. A film crew shooting an advertisement. A train traveling back to someone’s hometown. Mr. Teu dancing. A university student lost in melancholy. Lenin Park on a full moon night. A wandering dog. A story about a girl working at a bar. A Cai luong folk-singing stage play. Early morning in Hanoi.

All these scenes capture intricate impressions from a collection of reverberating memories, as described by young film director Lan Huong.

Earlier, on March 18, l’Institut français de Hanoi- L’Espace hosted a screening of two documentaries filmed in Hanoi, with a 60-year gap between them: “Hanoi Landscape” by Bui Dinh Hac and Nguyen Dang Bay, made in 1958, and “Pomelo” (Buoi Road) by Tran Phuong Thao and Swann Dubus, filmed from 2016 to 2018.

According to local film experts, through the eyes of Bui Dinh Hac and Nguyen Dang Bay, Hanoi represents a promise: a Hanoi after the victory of Dien Bien Phu in 1954. Under the “sky of freedom,” as described in the narration, the city’s famous landmarks unfold like a series of postcards. It is a harmonious world where nature and heritage coexist. In long shots, people can be seen neatly dressed, working and playing joyfully. Hope is palpable, and a sense of future glimmers amidst vast open spaces.

Almost 60 years later, the footage is now in color. In “Pomelo,” the future peeks through gaps: gaps that give rise to new construction sites and openings that mark the demolition of houses. The urban facade is thick and constantly pierced, only to be filled again. This process of reestablishment becomes the world of demolition workers, scrap metal collectors venturing from remote areas, working hands, and rubble.

The “Pomelo” by Tran Phuong Thao and Swann Dubus: The scrap-collection women and the house demolition workers show the filmmakers what it means to live in the city during 2016-2018.

According to visual artist Truong Que Chi, curator of the film project “Like the Moon in a Night Sky,” “Pomelo” portrays the everyday lives of scrap-collection women and house demolition workers, revealing what it truly means to live in this city.

After 10 years of experience, the filmmaker’s camera no longer bridges distances with enthusiasm. The relationship with the subjects has also evolved, lacking the sense of eagerness even in close-up shots.

“The camera acknowledges its role as an observer and understands that it cannot change or engage with the surroundings. It seeks the right vantage point, neither above nor below, not too close and not too far away. It reveals a world of darkness surrounded by construction materials,” she explained.

“Despite the brutality, tenderness and humor prevail. The people captured in the film navigate this crumbling environment with resilience and grace,” she added.

Space for Young Art-Lovers

Unlike mainstream international blockbusters shown in modern cinemas, the films in the “Like the Moon in a Night Sky” project are presented in small, intimate movie rooms with outdated projection equipment.

However, films like “Memoryland” by Bui Kim Quy, “Money, Money!” by Tran Vu and Nguyen Huu Luyen, “We Come Into Life” by Siu Pham, and “Blue/Green – Night Films in Hanoi” continue to attract a passionate audience of young art-lovers in Hanoi.

“These films are rare gems, whether they are state-owned or private productions. They possess high artistic value,” one audience member explained.

Thanks to the bold perspectives of the young curators at TPD, the “Like the Moon in a Night Sky” project has created a vibrant community of film enthusiasts. Together, they explore, research, and analyze the value of Vietnam’s precious cinematic works that are at risk of being forgotten.

An old house in Hanoi. A scene from Vuong Duc’s movie “The Missing Object” by Vuong Duc.

According to TPD Center Director Nguyen Hoang Phuong, young people have gradually lost the ability to communicate, connect, and engage in meaningful discussions. They lack a sense of belonging to a “cinema community.”

“I believe that cinema has the power to bring people together and provide them with the strength to overcome life’s challenges,” he stated.

Launched in 2020, the “Like the Moon in a Night Sky: A Perspective of Vietnamese Cinema” project is a series of events that delve into the past, present, and future of Vietnamese cinema. It serves as a bridge between the present and Vietnam’s cinematic heritage.

This year, the 3rd edition of the “Like the Moon in a Night Sky” project will run until April 3. It is organized by the Centre for Assistance and Development of Movie Talents (TPD) in close cooperation with l’Institut français de Hanoi – L’Espace, with support from the Japan Foundation Center for Cultural Exchange in Vietnam, Purin Pictures, UNESCO Office in Vietnam, Vietnam Film Institute, British Council in Vietnam, COMPLEX 01, Union Hub, and Tach Spaces.

Noteworthy Vietnamese films that will be screened with English subtitles include “The Missing Object” by Vuong Duc (4.30pm & 7pm on March 24 at L’Espace), “We Come Into Life” by Siu Pham (7.30pm on March 31 at BHD Star – Vincom Pham Ngoc Thach), and “Owls and Sparrows” by Stéphane Gauger (7pm on April 2 at L’Espace).