Synopsis by Brian Whitener
Trinh T. Minh-ha's tenth film, A Tale of Love, tells the story of Vietnamese immigrant Kieu, a freelance writer, who's attempting to navigate between the conflicting demands of a new life, the family she left behind, and her own ambitions. It's a film about desire -- Kieu's story casts into relief the desires of those around her as she struggles to come to terms with her own -- based loosely on the Vietnamese national love poem "The Tale of Kieu". In the film, Kieu writes for a women's magazine and moonlights as a photographer's model, sending money she earns back home to her family. While her family is appreciative of the support, they don't condone her choices, especially the moral ambiguities arising from her nude modeling, or understand the environment which conditions her decisions. These cultural differences bring Kieu into conflict with her aunt. Meanwhile, Alikan continues to photograph Kieu for a series of headless female bodies. Their terse conversations serve, in their silence, to lay bare their unspoken struggle of desire and, in their brevity, to heighten the sexual tension. Kieu, for the first half of the film, seems locked in this matrix bounded by cultural beliefs which no longer hold for her and by an emerging subjectivity which remains unexplored. The turning point occurs as Kieu begins to work in earnest on writing an article on "The Tale of Kieu" for her magazine. Through discussions with her boss, Juliet, who represents the Romeo-and-Juliet view of love as an overwhelming passion, Kieu reflects on her relation to the young Kieu of the poem and realizes her need to establish a personal interpretation of the Tale and, subsequently, a new sense of self beyond her conflicts with herself and her family. While these events can be said to unfold in chronological order, Trinh T. Minh-ha blends linear and non-linear narrative where these events play out in a paraspace of memory, dream, and reality. A beautifully filmed work, this was Minh-ha's first work shot on 35 mm, and it deservingly won an award for cinematography at Sundance in 1996.
love, survivor, immigrant, modeling, poor-family, self-sacrifice, writing