An Interview with Duong Mong Thu (Director)
Forgiving and Accepting One’s Enemies
Q: Although a war can be “terminated” by an official declaration that ends the actual fighting, the aftereffects of that war may linger on in many forms. Mrs. Bua, your film’s protagonist, is a person who continues to suffer pain from the torture she was subjected to during the war, and in the film she talks about her harrowing past. For me, it was inspiring to see Mrs. Bua living in harmony with the other villagers who had also managed to overcome the trauma of the past. However, in your director’s statement in the official film festival catalog, you mention that you “encountered a roadblock for the film” that led you to “change your focus.” Can you tell us a little more about this?
DMT: At first, I intended to focus the spotlight on Mrs. Bua as a way to illustrate the lasting trauma of war, but during the making of this film, I learned that Mrs. Bua’s convulsions had stopped. I was very happy to hear this, but it forced me to change my focus and brought the film production to an impasse. Eventually, I decided to shift my focus to the community that surrounded Mrs. Bua. I was amazed to learn about the past experiences of these villagers who rushed to Mrs. Bua’s aid whenever she suffered a convulsion, and I was fascinated by the fact that neighbors who had been on opposite sides during the war now lived and supported each other like one big family. By focusing the spotlight on their relationships, I was able to successfully complete the film.
Q: It was surprising to see former enemies living peaceably together. What do you think made it possible for them to be so forgiving towards one another?
DMT: I think that the Vietnamese people may be distinguished by their ability to forgive others for their past misdeeds. In spite of the atrocities perpetrated on them by Americans during the war, they are now willing to guide Americans around their towns and welcome them into their homes. In addition, in wartime Vietnam, it was not unusual for members of the same family to belong to opposing armies, with—for example—one brother fighting for the Vietnamese and another for the Americans. For the Vietnamese people, accepting one’s enemies is not such a difficult thing.
Q: In the film, there were many scenes that illustrated the solidarity and firm friendships that existed between the villagers. There was one scene of them sitting around a table at night discussing their wartime memories, and I remember that scene as being cheerful, but a bit surreal at the same time. During those conversations, did they talk about anything besides the war?
DMT: They discussed their daily lives, and they talked about other memories of the past as well. Mrs. Bua and her convulsions were also a frequent topic of conversation. After her convulsions stopped, they didn’t talk about her as much, but they still asked about her and were obviously concerned with her well-being.
Q: There is a tendency to think that painful memories are best forgotten, but the residents of this village have accepted their past as it is, while they continue to move forward in life. Are all Vietnamese people possessed of a similar strength of spirit that allows them to overcome the difficulties of the past?
DMT: I believe that they are. However, I think that it is their inability to forget the past that motivates them to make the effort to accept it. In Vietnam today, there are still children being born without hands or feet as a result of the defoliant that was used during the war. There are also many people, including my own father, who have developed cancers that were caused by the use of chemical weapons. As long as these scars of the war continue to exist, we will not be able to erase the memories of war from our minds. But if we waste our energy on being angry and bitter, it will only have a negative impact on our own lives. The Vietnamese people have been able to accept the past and admit our mistakes to one another, directing our energies towards reconciliation between ethnic groups so that we may peacefully coexist, and I believe it is this ability that has enabled us to overcome what we have been through.
(Compiled by Inoue Saya)
Interviewers: Inoue Saya, Kotaki Yukie / Interpreter: Trinh Thuy Huong / Translator: Kato Lisa Somers
Photography: Fujikawa Kiyohisa / Video: Suzuki Noriko / 2013-10-11