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Hot Docs Online Review: Mein Vietnam

June 11, 2020

By John Corrado

★★★ (out of 4)

A selection of films from this year’s online edition of Hot Docs continue to be available to stream on their website. Tickets are $9 apiece, $8 for members, with screenings geo-blocked to Ontario. The full lineup can be found here.

Tam and Bay have been living in Germany for the past thirty years. The husband and wife, who moved there from Vietnam for the chance of a better life, put in hard work as cleaners in an office building at night. They spend the rest of their time at home in their apartment, where they are mostly disconnected from German society at large, and instead interact with family members back home through Skype, unable to physically be with them.

This married couple are the subjects of Mein Vietnam, an observational documentary which was made by the couple’s daughter Thi Hien Mai, who co-directs with German filmmaker Tim Ellrich. The film was recently selected by viewers as one of the top twenty finalists for the Hot Docs Audience Award during the online festival, coming in at number seventeen.

Ellrich serves as the film’s cinematographer, and his camera draws us in to this world. We watch through long takes, the camera often locked in place, as Bay tries to learn German with her daughter, coming to terms with the fact that her future is in Germany. Meanwhile, Tam remains somewhat stuck in the past. He hangs out in online karaoke chat rooms and spends his time drinking beer and smoking cigarettes, lamenting the fact that they might never return to live in Vietnam, which they had always planned to do.

Their dreams are further dashed by a major storm that ravages their house back home, leading Tam to become increasingly frustrated as he tries to direct family members through the internet to complete the renovations. It’s in these personal, specific details of this couple’s life, which are so nicely captured in the film, that the richness of the story it is telling is revealed.

Unfolding purely in a cinéma vérité style, Mein Vietnam evocatively captures the monotony, loneliness and boredom of living in a society that you don’t really feel like a part of. What unfolds over the course of the film’s seventy minute running time is a lovingly observed portrait of the immigrant experience, that is at times quite touching.

Mein Vietnam is available to stream until June 24th.

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