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Minh Quý Trương | The Tree House

Minh Quý Trương | The Tree House

[…] We therefore encounter even images with no sound, or black screens with sound, and drawings: there is a non-linear plasticity of the form that is striking, mainly because the variety of forms never brings distraction but focus.

[…] In the middle of the film Minh Quý Trương raises a fundamental question – an anthropological question for ethnology, I should call it – concerning the opportunity and the way to seize a remote people through images. The answer is clear, and will work as a sort of structure and poetic credo for the film: the task has to be assumed by imagination, not by images.

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A 16mm film brings us the discovery of a remote people in the North of Vietnam, similar to the Ruc people that used to live in caves. They were displaced by the Americans during the Vietnam war and now, for them, their life in the caves is a question of memory. Even the survival of their language is threatened by the changes in geography and lifestyle. The 16mm patina of the images allows them to blend with the archive footage, and now and then they melt together: reality has more consistency in the tales that we are told than in the sheer images that we see. The filmmaker Minh Quý Trương himself tells us the stories that he has heard from those people. He speaks from Mars, in 2045; he actually talks on the phone to his father, who in turn recalls his own memories. Is this science-fiction detour an expressive device to suggest the abysmal distance between us – the filmmaker, the viewers – and those remote people? Or has Mars the simple reality of tales, which makes also the present time a question of memory?

The time puzzle in The Tree House has the precise function of putting forward the memories and the stories or legends, which have no less the status of documents than a recorded image. What we see just works as support, as suggestion and yet the sensorial aspects of the film are not diminished but enhanced. We therefore encounter even images with no sound, or black screens with sound, and drawings: there is a non-linear plasticity of the form that is striking, mainly because the variety of forms never brings distraction but focus. The formal plasticity is always adapted to the reality that is being told and also to the meaning that is conveyed. A good example is the use of negative film to touch the topic of death and its visual representation. More precisely, the central theme of “home” – a tree house, cave, shelter, place of familiarity, origin, place for the memories – is also developed in terms of the houses for the dead, which are effectively built as part of a funerary ceremony by the remote people that have been filmed.

Correspondingly, the home as protection for both the living and the dead is not a marginal aspect of The Tree House. The tree house that we discover, where a father and a son lived for 40 years far from civilisation – so to speak – has been burnt down and remains only in traces of memory, probably soon to be as a legend. The question of the disappearing of habits and ethnic practices goes together with the pressure of not forgetting them, that is, using memory as a house for the dead. Would the entire film be a house for the dead? Not really or, at least, not the film as a collection of images. The use of negative film can work here as a hint as to why. The aim of The Tree House is apparently not the one of preservation, in the sense of an ethnological museum. In the middle of the film Minh Quý Trương raises a fundamental question – an anthropological question for ethnology, I should call it – concerning the opportunity and the way to seize a remote people through images. The answer is clear, and will work as a sort of structure and poetic credo for the film: the task has to be assumed by imagination, not by images.

Therefore, through the importance of imagination, the imagination of stories, legends, private and public memories, we come back to the fundamental function of the time puzzle or the plastic variety of forms of The Tree House, to Minh Quý Trương’s remarkable editing. His filmic discourse is open, a composition of fragments, in terms of images and sounds, which always expressive an imaginative coherence, the coherence of memory, and the coherence of the history and geography that he discovered, from Mars to the mountains of Vietnam at the border with China and Laos.

Text: Giuseppe Di Salvatore | Audio/Video: Ruth Baettig

First published: August 25, 2019

The Tree House – Nhà Cây | Film | Minh Quý Trương | SGP-VNM-DE-FR-CHN 2019 | 84’ | Locarno Film Festival 2019

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