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Ru flashbacks reveal terror and heartache that accompanied a family’s escape from Vietnam and settlement in Canada

Ru Vietnam
Tinh (Chloé Djandji) was born during the Tet Offensive and later fled to Canada with her family.

What could possess two wealthy parents to flee their homeland, pack their three kids on a crowded vessel, and risk dying of thirst or from a pirate attack on the high seas? Quebec director Charles-Olivier Michaud offers enthralling insights in his remarkable film Ru. It’s adapted from Kim Thúy’s Governor General’s Award winning autobiographical novel.

Ru tells the story of a family of Vietnamese refugees who settle in Quebec after the fall of Saigon in 1975. The father, Minh (Jean Bui), was a high-ranking civil servant in the government of South Vietnam. He finds a job in a Montreal restaurant and his wife, Nguyen (Chantal Thuy), works as a seamstress. It’s a monumental climbdown from their former lives in Vietnam, eased somewhat by the kindness of their French-Canadian sponsors.

The central character is their daughter Tinh (Chloé Djandji). She was born during the Tet Offensive, which was timed for the Lunar New Year holiday in 1968. That marked a turning point in the Vietnam War, leading to an eventual American withdrawal and reunification of the country under Communist rule.

Through a series of gripping flashbacks, Tinh reveals the terror and heartache of their post-war lives in Vietnam. Ru also shares what others linked to the former South Vietnamese regime endured with this stream-of-consciousness approach.

Often, films are built around conflict between a lead character and an external force, whether that’s another person, society, or the environment. It’s less common to come across a dramatic movie rooted in internal conflict within the lead character’s mind—especially when that character is a traumatized immigrant girl entering adolescence.

Ru Vietnam
Vietnamese community members share their experiences from the homeland with Tinh in Ru.

Vietnam shrouded in darkness

Another aspect that sets Ru apart is the contrast between idyllic winter life in Quebec and the family’s harrowing departure from Vietnam. The director of cinematography, Jean-François Lord, showcases the innocence of Quebec in that era in bright, sunny tones. And the furniture certainly has that ’70s look. Meanwhile, scenes looking back to Vietnam are often shrouded in darkness, reinforcing those dreaded times.

In the rest of Canada, Quebec often comes under criticism over the government’s legislation around languages and religious symbols. But the warmth and generosity of Quebeckers toward their new Vietnamese neighbours in the late 1970s and early 1980s shines through in Ru.

It’s an important film that offers a welcome reminder of the value of being kind to strangers from abroad. When the Canadian Screen Awards nominations are unveiled on Wednesday (March 6), Ru definitely warrants consideration in several categories, particularly for its direction, adapted screenplay, and Chantal Thuy’s performance as Tinh’s mother.

Update

On March 6, Ru received nine Canadian Screen Awards nominations, including Jacques Davidts for Adapted Screenplay. Nominations also went to Chantal Thuy for Performance in a Supporting Role and Jean-François Lord for Achievement in Cinematography.

In addition, Ru is among the finalists in several other film categories. They include Marie-Hélène Lavoie for Art Direction; Rosalie Clermont for Achievement in Costume Design; Vincent Dufault for Achievement in Hair; Dominique T. Hasbani for Achievement in Make-Up; Pierre-Jules Audet,  Marie-Miel Lacasse Hévey, Monique Vézina, and Natalie Fleurant for Achievement in Sound Editing; and Hans Laitres, Guillaume Doust, Maxime Vermette, Daniel Bisson, and Mathieu Maillé for Achievement in Sound Mixing.

Mae Martin will host the Canadian Screen Awards broadcast show on CBC and CBC Gem on May 31.

The Rendez-Vous French Film Festival presents Ru at 7:15 p.m. on Thursday (March 7) at Silvercity Coquitlam. Author Kim Thúy, who shares a writing credit, will speak in the theatre at 6:30 p.m. before the screening. Register for free through Eventbrite. Follow Pancouver on Twitter @PancouverMedia and on Instagram @PancouverMedia.

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Charlie Smith

Charlie Smith

Pancouver editor Charlie Smith has worked as a Vancouver journalist in print, radio, and television for more than three decades.

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We would like to acknowledge that we are gathered on the traditional and unceded territories of the Coast Salish peoples of the xʷməθkwəy̓əm (Musqueam), Skwxwú7mesh (Squamish), and Səl̓ílwətaɬ (Tsleil-Waututh) Nations. With this acknowledgement, we thank the Indigenous peoples who still live on and care for this land.