Starring: Lê Vân, Nguyễn Hữu Mười, Đặng Lưu Việt Bảo
Director: Đặng Nhật Minh
Running Time: 81 mins
When The Tenth Month Comes (Bao giờ cho đến tháng mười) is a Vietnamese film about a mother who struggles to care for her family as she hides the fact that her husband died on the battlefront during the Vietnam War.
It’s interesting to see a view of the Vietnam War from the Vietnamese side, as When The Tenth Month Comes proves an intriguing and intimate drama from beginning to end, and even though it may not have the strong emotional power it’s clearly aiming for, it’s still an engrossing watch throughout, furthered by strong performances and elegant directing.
Now, the one thing to know about this film before watching it is that, while it is set around the Vietnam War, it’s definitely not a war movie. In fact, the presence of war isn’t all that overbearing at times, because the focus here is on how local people were affected by the war, rather than the wider historical developments.
On the one hand, I felt I would have liked to see a little more reference to the war itself, however only nine years after the end of the devastating Vietnam War, it’s clear that a local film would want to stay away from being too heavy on the wartime atmosphere. On the other hand, however, the fact that there is so much more focus on the characters of local people makes for a very down-to-earth and intimate atmosphere, by far the most intriguing element of the story.
Centring around a woman who struggles to balance her grief for her dead husband and continuing to provide for her child and father-in-law as if things were still normal, you feel a very strong connection to the main character throughout, as it’s only you as the viewer (as well as one other character) that knows of her secret, meaning you’re able to tap into another level of her state of mind, making the scenes in which she attempts to pass her emotions off as normal particularly engrossing.
In all truth, I would have liked to see a little more context and explanation as to exactly why this woman is so intent on keeping the man’s death a secret, and although it’s clear she has good intentions in trying to keep peace in a somewhat ailing family, it’s a plot point that felt a little forced to me early on, which was a little frustrating to see.
With that said, however, the woman’s central story is engrossing throughout, while the wider effects of her decision, which do expand to encompass her entire town, are even more interesting, as it offers a glimpse into how the balance of a traditional society can be so upset by the lack of one individual, with tension and suspicion building in the small community around her.
Moving on from the story, the production quality of this film is particularly noteworthy, given that despite being made in 1984, it has the appearance of a Hollywood film from the mid-1930s. Of course, Vietnam in the 1980s wasn’t the world’s most technologically-advanced country, but it’s interesting to see how director Dang Nhat Minh manages to overcome the less-than-developed filmmaking technology to still provide an elegant film.
Using the rural setting to great effect, Dang shows off both the wide expanses of the countryside as well as the more compact nature of the small town at the centre of the story, something that in part reinforces the tightly-knit nature of the village (and as a result heightens the tension and drama in the story), but also gives the film a very earthy and natural vibe, reminiscent of Chen Kaige’s Yellow Earth, another 1984 film that really doesn’t look like it was made at the time by the technology.
Finally, the central performance here from Le Van is excellent. Throughout, she pulls off her character’s deeply hurt and confused emotions flawlessly, bringing you in close as you sympathise with her difficult situation, all the while still retaining the likable qualities and strength that her character possesses in order to keep going at this time. All in all, it’s a simple yet endlessly effective central performances that works wonders to keep you engrossed in the film’s emotional story.
Overall, I was impressed by When The Tenth Month Comes. Although it’s not a film that’s completely flawless in its delivery, often failing to hit home with the hardest emotional power, it does have an elegant, earthy and natural feel to it, an excellent central performance, and an intimate and unique story that gives a small insight into wartime Vietnam from the local perspective, and a deep insight into the workings of a small community and the relations within, and that’s why I’m giving it a 7.5.