Cultural messages conveyed through the language of cinema
Many may still be reminded of how Vietnamese revolutionary cinema would encourage, motivate, mobilize, and connect millions of people and young Vietnamese in the two resistance wars against France and the United States. These movies offered the world an insight into the Vietnam war and the people in this S-shaped strip of land. Emerging from war, Vietnam has become a peace-loving nation that wishes to befriend all in the world. That message has been vividly conveyed by art, including cinema, apart from diplomatic channels, treaties, and economic agreements.
Vietnamese cinema in the 1990s – 2000s also saw meticulously made movies with intimate settings, featuring predominantly rural scenes, such as Đất và Người (Land and People), Sóng ở đáy sông (Waves from the bottom of the river), Mùi đu đủ xanh (The Scent of Green Papaya), Xích lô (Cyclo), Mùa len trâu (The Buffalo Boy).
The nominations of film for international awards by the Vietnam Cinema Department today also give precedence to works that deliver messages of Vietnam’s core cultural values. It views such opportunity for nomination as a bridge between Vietnamese culture and the world.
|A scene from the 1993 Oscar-nominated Mùi đu đủ xanh (The Scent of Green Papaya) directed by Tran Anh Hung (Photo: thegioidienanh.vn).
The current trend in global cinema also reflects the preservation of national cultural values by means of classic stories. Looking at the award-winning works of Korean and Iranian cinema, we can see that cultural message is the decisive factor in winning international audiences’ hearts.
Modern filmmakers focus on the cultural contexts, cultural spaces, customs, costumes, and natural landscapes to feature in their projects. Through motion pictures, images of the country, people, and traditional cultural values are promoted and shared worldwide. The introduction of films by category, by theme, and by country also broadens audiences’ knowledge of the history, development, events, and turning points of each geopolitically divided country, ethnicity, or region.
Amble opportunities to promote Vietnamese culture through motion pictures
Thousands of film festivals take place around the world annually. In addition to renowned film festivals such as Cannes, Berlin, and Venice, many countries have also hosted international film festivals of their own for promotion on a regional and global scale. A number of film weeks have been introduced on the occasion of celebrations or cultural exchanges, so as to further promote the culture, lifestyles, and changes of a country to the artists and people of another.
Vietnamese cinema, from the Kite Awards, the Golden Lotus, and Silver Lotus Awards, once confined to the domestic market, has now established new channels to go global. The current generation of Vietnamese artists has also concentrated on exploiting the power of cinema in disseminating national cultural values to the region and the world. Director Phan Gia Nhat Linh said, “I have great ambitions for Vietnamese cinema, through which I would like to introduce Vietnamese folklore to the domestic and international public. I want them to be mesmerized by the beauty of the village banyan tree, the columns of blue smoke curling up from rustic thatched roofs, and the cheers from kids riding buffalo.”
Actor and producer Ngo Thanh Van has also drawn up a long-term plan for truly Vietnamese projects. “I want to build a fairy tale universe of Vietnamese cinema. Living far away from home since childhood, I have long harbored a burning desire to cinematize traditional cultural values. I think it is easier to recount seemingly dull historical events through movies,” the female director noted.
|The charm of Vietnamese ao dai (long dress) in the movie “Cô Ba Sài Gòn” (The Tailor) (Photo: KT).
Upon the release of the short film “Con Cưng” (The Golden Child) – a project selected to be screened in a new category at Cannes x Tiktok 2022, Creative Director Denis Dang, known for his novel music videos, believed that, by bringing into the product Vietnamese cultural image and material with multiple layers of deep meanings, he could potentially seize the opportunity to put a Vietnam film on the international market.
“As a Vietnamese, I want to play a part in bringing Vietnamese cultural values into my creative products and instill those values not only into Vietnam but also into other countries”, Dennis Dang added.
|The short film “Con Cưng” (The Golden Child) by Dennis Dang explores Vietnamese themes with many elaborately staged scenes (Photo: thegioidienanh.vn).
There are many Vietnamese film projects that have given priority to the incorporation of national cultural materials. Literary and folklore works have been gradually transformed into a new film genre, projecting the sheer beauty of Vietnam onto the big screen.
Filmmakers’ sustained efforts to bring traditional cultural factors into cinema demonstrate that culture has truly become an invaluable resource for cinematic themes. From a cultural perspective, this is also a way to preserve and promote ancient artistic values to domestic and foreign audiences.
Director Huynh Tuan Anh states that, in the digital age when robots can compose music, draw pictures or write scripts, there is only one thing that cannot be borrowed or plagiarized – that is the national culture, the promotion of which should be furthered by cinema in the long run, for Vietnamese identity is unique.