Sandy Lives is this year’s Vietnamese entry into the festival but also similar in feeling to Land of Wandering Souls, the Cambodian doco from last year. If you’ve seen either, you will know what I mean.
Sparse, tragic and poetic — both detail the struggles of everyday people under adverse circumstances, although Sandy Lives concerns more of the aftermath where a struggle of a different kind continues for Canh, a communist cadre. He is returning to his village after a 20 years absence, after Vietnam’s reunification.
His wife, Thoa, has been faithfully awaiting his return. However, her hopes of reuniting with her husband and quietly passing their days together is given a swift kick into the dust. The unpleasant reality is that he has remarried and fathered a child during his absence. Will Canh stay with Thoa or will he continue his new life with his second wife, Tam?
Every person involved, from Canh himself to his two wives Thoa and Tam, to his daughter are desperately tormented by previous promises, their loyalty to each other and their hope for the future. They can’t live together but they can’t live without each other either.
There certainly won’t be an easy solution to the dilemma, or as Canh puts it “If the wives understood each other, the sky will fall!”
Despite the poorly translated subtitles, and the sometimes grating soundtrack, director Nguyen Thanh Van manages to expose the pain and the emotional trauma suffered by his characters in a touching light. He also manages to weave the stories of other characters, maimed by the war, into the central story.
A very moving film, more admirable considering the statistics of the nascent Vietnamese film industry – Sandy Lives was made for a mere $65 000, with antiquated equipment and limited resources. Despite this the spirit of the film really packs a punch.