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Mother Fish

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I found out about this freebie screening at the Law Faculty from the Shitz issue of Tharunka. Apparently it is nearly Foundation Day once again. They had some IT problems in Law G04, so after about an hour we got moved to the Staff Common Room on the top floor. This new law building, forty-something years in the making, is right next to the unibar, and this being Thursday night we got an earful of somebody's birthday party. I must say that the library there is full of studious people, very quiet, unlike the main one. It is totally full though, most of the time, including sitting room on the floor.

I went in cold, with no expectations of this movie. It opened in a way that reminded me of a song by The Herd, the Prime Minister (Rudd this time, Howard then) saying that though our refugee policy might be a bit crap, it's the least crap of all possible policies. The voice-over was sweet, but also a bit spooky, as the auteur Khoa Do (Anh Do's brother) was clearly trying to render the ancestral spirits. (It was in Vietnamese, which made it clear that it was the younger sister of the woman in the scene doing the talking. The English translation lacked a lot of nuance.) Once we get to the tailor sweatshop, though, things are pretty grim. Khoa followed Lars von Trier down the Dogville path of minimal sets but with less conviction; the camera became a water puppet as it followed the four characters on their river boat from somewhere in Vietnam to somewhere in Thailand, and as things slowed down I started looking at my watch. It didn't help that the boat people spoke English all of the way, and it seems the emotional crescendo happened while I wasn't watching.

Executive Producer cum "million-book selling author" Matthew Reilly (I took that to mean he wrote airport novels) opened proceedings by saying what a brilliant, arresting, and special story this is. I can only think that he has good intentions but no conception of Vietnam, for very similar stories have been rendered in English by Andrew X. Pham and Nam Le, the latter of whom cast a huge splash across literary Australia not a few years ago. (Let's just quietly ignore the truckloads of stories and movies from the 1980s.)

I also found it funny to hear presumably Southerners fantasising about phở tải, when everyone tells me it's a northern dish.

Good intentions, yes, I got that. Human suffering, that too, the plights of refugees, and so forth... but I had these prior to seeing this movie.

The promotional website is here.