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Lyrical, beautifully filmed story of the difficult lives of poor rice
farmers in the Mekong Delta flood plain in the years immediately
preceding the Japanese occupation of WW II. Kim (The Lu Le) is a young
man who must take on extra responsibilities when his father grows too
ill to work.
The immediate problem is getting the family's two water buffalo to higher ground so they will have grass to eat, as the entire area surrounding their farm is experiencing one of the worst flood seasons in years and the animals are at risk for starving to death. Kim throws in with the notorious Lap and his "gang" buffalo herders who move many animals each year for all the farmers in the area, for a hefty fee.
The film features buffalo drives, gang rivalries and warfare, drunken, cannabis laced parties, raped women, love, honor and duty to one's family. But the most vivid theme depicted here is the very hard life lived by people entirely at the mercy of the river.
Many important themes are expressed with subtlety, lightly touched upon. For example, we see evidence of the admixture of Catholicism and Buddhism, when one character or another makes simple reference to "God and Buddha" in everyday conversation. The heavy hand of the French colonizers is discerned just once, when a boatload of armed, uniformed officers comes around to check on tax matters. As Kim digs a grave for an old woman, we see in the background a procession of men pass by. Those in the front and rear wear caps with sun protective cloth at the back: the classic caps of Japanese soldiers. The others are French. It's the only reference to the occupation.
We gain insight into problems unique to this culture. We learn of the precious value of the water buffalo, without which spring tilling for rice cannot be accomplished. The problem of disposing properly of bodies of the dead during flood season is confronted at length. We get a sense of the pervasiveness and power of the delta floods through underwater scenes that show us vague forms of dead humans and swimming water buffalo, among other sights.
The music is sporadic and spare, hauntingly gorgeous. Flute playing and group singing by intoxicated gang members are delightful surprises. This film is part of the Global Lens 2005 series. It deserves far wider screening. (In Vietnamese) Grade: 8.5/10 (A-). (Seen on 04/14/05). If you'd like to read more of my reviews, send me a message for directions to my websites.
When I saw this film at the Palm Springs Film Festival I was prepared for a nice slice-of-life movie about a time and place I would never visit in any other way. This stunningly beautiful film delivers that and so much more. Set in Vietnam during the occupation by the French in the 1930's Bufalo Boy tells the story of a teenage boy who becomes a man when he leads his family's only hope for survival, two water buffalo, out of their flooded homeland to forage on higher ground. With this debut, the director combines riveting action/adventure, poignant relationships, powerful performances and excellent photography. He immerses us in a way of life that requires more courage in order to survive one day than most of us will have to summon in a life-time. Like a character with a starring role, the water is always there, always changing, always influencing the lives of those who depend on it to nurture them and fight with it to keep it from destroying them. Out soon in DVD but well worth the effort to see it on a large screen if you can.
OK, let's have a plot summary: Vietnamese dude leads a bunch of
buffaloes in search of grass.
(The DVD packagers are going to have a hell of a time selling this one.)
But I assure you that the symbolism, the poetry, and the commentary on the conflict of the human condition is absolutely enthralling. You have to be looking for it, though, because it's quite subtle.
We are shown a land & a culture of savagery. We travel with rogues, rapists and murderers. Even the lead character is vulnerable to lapses in moral character. But through it all, he maintains the utmost dedication to his buffaloes and to those kind humans whom he encounters along the way. To me, it's one of the most honest portrayals of moral conflict in human beings. True, we are savage and brutal, but there is also honor, if you dig down deep enough.
The Vietnamese reverence for water buffaloes is something I never understood, but now I do. Eat your heart out, Francis Ford Coppola (who had a water buffalo slaughtered in "Apocalypse Now" and blamed it on a local tribe. Yeah, right).
If you can find a copy of this rare gem, definitely give it a watch. There's a lot more to it than you'd ever expect.
Frankly, I am surprised I hung with this movie because it's pretty
slow. It's not a real "entertainer," except for two things: 1 - the
camera-work is nice at times; 2 - the story is quite different from
anything we are accustomed to in the West. But after two-thirds of this
story had elapsed, it was tough going the rest of the way. It's not an
uplifting story, either. It left me feeling depressed. Yet, it IS a
memorable film and I'm glad I watched it.
I mean, as one reviewer says here "Vietnamese dude leads a bunch of buffaloes in search of grass. That's it."
Yes, in one sense he's right, but obviously there is more to it than that. We get glimpses of this guy's father and mother, friends, enemies, thieves, sex, loyalty and abandonment and generally what life must be like for those in this story of people who live in this odd environment. With all the water around them, they couldn't bury their loved ones until the dry season came. They wrapped them up and put them on poles, and hopes the crows didn't peck away at the bodies.
Yes, you wouldn't want to live here, at the southern tip of Vietnam with these rainy, long flood season. Lugging a couple of Water Buffaloes through waist-deep muddy water for miles can't be a great existence, either.
I agree with another critic here who labels this story as "lyrical." For the most part, I liked watching and listening to "Kim" (The Lu Le) give his outlook on various topics and the dialog between he and his father often was humorous. Hey, how many times have you/did you sit around and smoke "weed" and play the flute with your dad?
This is a culture far removed from mine, which is one reason why I stayed with this film - to learn something while witnessing some very foreign sights and sounds to me. I would recommend this only to people who know what they are getting into (something slow, and very different) or who just plain love most Asian films.
A film of quiet power, beautifully shot and well-acted.
The deceptively simple story takes place during the French Occupation of Vietnam, shortly before the beginning of World War II.
Kim, the 15-year old son of impoverished Vietnamese rice farmers, must take the family's two starving buffaloes on a river journey to an area where there is still grass for them to eat.
Despite the tiny budget, the execution of the film is lyrical but realistic. It's hard to believe that this is the director's first film.
The images lingered in my mind long after the film ended. Hope to see more from this director.
I'm so what not a casual film watcher, meaning movie like spider-man or
superman or x-man or maybe even Titanic doesn't really score much of
impression to me.
This movie, is a somewhat similar to the movie "Legend of the fall" (but of course not that close, but that's the style). The technique of the movie is kind of similar to Green Papaya or "Vertical ray of sun", but it's more on the rural side, more mainstream (a favorite struggle story) rather than a contemporary city life.
And yet, this is one of the rarest Vietnamese movie that truly depict what is the society / life look like in 1930, in its fully details.
A beautiful yet poignant narrative of mans paradoxical existence in relation to each other and the honest forces of nature, i.e., the duality of man as virtuous parasites. The themes of life and death are juxtaposed into a realization of powers greater than our own opinions or ethos. Director Nguyen Vo Nghiem Minh successfully enlightens of the psyche of fatalistic and enduring Vietnamese people. "Mua Len Trau" needs to be placed in the top 10 best Vietnamese directed full features of all times, or at least trading-places with less then average film fest winners like "Ba Mua"; where the cinematography fools the viewer into accepting an inexplicable story.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Can a teenager find his identity if he's always scraping to locate his
This unusual and extremely exotic coming-of-age film seems to tackle this question amidst the subsistence rice paddies of 1940s Vietnam.
The Lu Le is excellent as Kim, a shirtless and angry 15-year-old. His father, Det, taught Kim to play the flute in happier days but now serves mainly to keep him (and his machete) in line. Kim's mother is cold and rejecting. We learn a lot about why at Det's pivotal death-boat scene. Kim's unfolding epiphany is powerful.
This psychological struggle takes place in a highly threatening environment. On the human side you have French-backed soldiers demanding high taxes, and local herder-gangsters practicing cut-throat competition, rape, and abduction. Nature is equally brutal. The primitive, unlighted terrain has its attractions but is also hellish with torrential downpours, oceanic floods, and a tremendous amount of mud.
I'm glad I caught this on the TV channel of the City University of New York. At least now I understand why they call those beasts "water" buffalo!
I saw this movie in a small theater in Paris in presence of the
Director. What surprised me most at the beginning was the violation of
basic rules such as framings that were not what we're usually used to.
But you know the rule, better know it before you break it! So the
result is visually quite pleasing. As for the story, that is quite
dark, I remember the underwater scenes with skeletons that are focus
point of the whole story: as far as I remember, the whole story is
spinning about how fragile our existence maybe and how straight one can
become when being in such conditions. I mean the main character is
about to perform rape but would you blame him? Yes, of course. I've
been a couple of months in Vietnam, but not in that special place. Next
time I hope. I hope the director will still be shooting so that we can
watch a movie that flavors the very feel of that Country and its
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