Tran Anh Hung, director of The Smell of Green Papaya (1993), experienced a long journey through the desert before finding himself back in the spotlight with The Passion of Dodin Bouffant , released on November 8 in cinemas and which represents France in the race for the Oscars. He speaks to us with gentleness and resignation about his setbacks and the disenchantment of French critics towards him.
I wouldn’t have gotten here if…
…If my parents hadn’t met in rather Hitchcockian circumstances, which made me want to tell stories. My father, a Vietnamese exiled in Laos, was a tailor in a very small town which had been created from scratch by the French army to become a listening base. This town was called Seno, for “southeast-northwest”.
My father made uniforms for the French army, but he had another passion, dancing. He regularly went to the neighboring village to participate in competitions where he found partners for the occasion. One day, he won the cup by dancing with a stranger. He tried to find out who she was, eventually found out what village she was in, and went to see her. But this woman was married. While, in despair, he was wandering the streets, he came across another woman, the portrait, line for line, of his date, with whom he fell in love. This very romantic story had a great impact on me and probably led me to the cinema.
Was your mother Vietnamese too?
Yes. She came from a very poor family, she was illiterate, and helped my father with his sewing work. He had been apprenticed after the death of his father, when he was 9 years old, to a master to whom he served as a handyman.
He had a gift for telling stories. The people of the village clubbed together to send it to a cinema, 7 kilometers away. He would walk there and, on the way back, he would replay the scenes, rehearse the actions, practice walking like Gary Cooper or Henry Fonda to perform all the roles in front of his audience. These names rocked my childhood. My father’s storytelling skills were a great source of inspiration for me.
What memories do you have of Laos?
We moved to Vientiane, the capital. I was outside a lot, my parents worked a lot. We didn’t live far from the Alliance Française, a large, half-empty building. I loved going there, firstly because it had brand new flushing toilets and we didn’t have any at home, but also for the library and the film club.
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