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Short Film Review: The Eternal Springtime (2021) by Viet Vu

In “The Eternal Springtime” Việt Vũ visualises his struggle to overcome his anxiety about the future and to find his own self.

Every year, the Ammodo Tiger Short Competition at the offers the public the chance to discover young and exciting filmmakers. This year Viet Vu is one of them. He presents us with his third film “”, a visually and narratively multilayered construct and a very personal film.

The Eternal Springtime screened at International Film Festival Rotterdam

We follow a son and a mother in a landscape that at the first glance looks bright and green, but on closer observation turns out to be on the brink of extinction. The son wants to escape this reality and misses the security of his mother's womb. When they withdraw in a cave, it services as a kind of substitute and the intimacy and closeness revitalizes them both.

Viet Vu based “The Eternal Springtime” on personal experiences. As a child, he lived in a rural area but as he was growing up it turned more urban, changing the fabric of the community. At the same time he started to experience anxiety and went through an existential crisis not knowing what to do with his future. To overcome that anxiety, he started to work with a camera and practice meditation.

The son holds the camera thus making a compound portrait of himself and his mother. That Viet Vu himself plays this character, adds an interesting layer to the first-person viewpoint of the film. That the woman playing the mother is his own mum raises even more questions about how we should classify “The Eternal Springtime”. Is it a documentary, is it fiction or is it something in between? The director calls his style of filming docufiction. His films are all based in reality, but at the same time emotions drive him to create a story rather than to just observe.

In “The Eternal Springtime” this story is mostly implied and open to multiple interpretations. The poem-like monologue at the core of the film tells the story of a person being captured and enslaved but managing to free himself, though not without scars. It can be interpreted as a reference to the colonization of Vietnam, the war leading to its independence and its aftermath. But, when taking into account that the texts were written as meditation texts, it can also be seen as the son practicing meditating to come to terms with the past and future and come back fully to the here and now.

This interpretation is reinforced by the visual structure of this part. When the monologue starts, the film shifts to showing stills instead of moving images. As the son gets deeper into a meditative state, the images become increasingly manipulated by filters, overlays and compositing. At the end of the monologue, we shift back to the here and now of the film. Viet Vu does this in a subtle and beautiful way: almost unnoticeable he switches back from a still to the mother and son gently moving.

Another factor that might underscore this theory is the use of sound. During the entire movie, we hear sounds of nature but predominantly the sound of water flowing. The repetitive nature of this sound can be used to guide the meditation. That what sounds like a brook, in the final scene turns into a wild river, which could imply that the son's respite from anxiety will be tested and might only be temporal.

Viet Vu is currently taking part in the DocNomads programme at the LUCA – School of Arts in Brussels. He followed different workshops and made his first films at the Hanoi Doclab in Vietnam. His first film “The Ant-man” (2018) won the Purin Award for The Most Promising Filmmaker from South East Asia at the SeaShorts Film Festival in Malaysia. His second film, the short documentary “An Act of Affection” (2020) premiered at the Locarno Film Festival.

With “The Eternal Springtime” Viet Vu gives us not only an interesting experimental short film but also a love letter to a disappearing landscape of his youth and to his ageing mother.

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