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Chuyện tử tế and Agarrando Pueblo: Two Masterpieces from Vietnam and Colombia


These two very different films share a common theme: poverty. They are Chuyện tử tế (Story of Kindness, 1987) and Agarrando Pueblo (The Vampires of Poverty, 1977).

How are they similar?

The director, Tran Van Thuy, gets the idea to make Story of Kindness from a friend who is dying of cancer. The friend's name is Đồng Xuân Thuyết, who is another great Vietnamese filmmaker. The same passion gives birth to The Vampires of Poverty from directors, Carlos Mayolo and Luis Ospina. After years of feeling fed up by other Colombian filmmakers who exploit the poor and unfortunate such as homeless people in order to gain fame and accolades, the two director friends set out to make a mockumentary on such ignorance. Even though it was made in 1977, it remains a very important film to this day. It makes filmmakers to confront themselves for an earnest reason to carry out their cinematic endeavor. You want to make films to become famous, or you want to help people? Sometimes the two are not that clear and this is where filmmakers fall into the trap of artistic self-indulgence.

How are they different?

The difference is the approach to their subject. Story of Kindness is a "kind" and compassionate film. It’s very tender in its tone and directorial style. It asks the central questions--What is kindness? How do we live a good life? They seem like simple questions but when confronted with reality they are as complicated as infinity.  There are scenes in the film that echo cultural references, such as the lepers, the nun, the teacher who was once revered by his student but now struggles to make ends meet by selling vegetable at the market. His self esteem and pride all captured in the scene by the cameraman. The scene where an old wise man explains the original of the Vietnamese word "Tu Tet" cuts to the heart of the film. It subtly explains Vietnamese's ideology- an ideology of subtly. And then there is Đồng Xuân Thuyết, who is very young and dying of cancer. On his deathbed, Dong encourages and enlightens his film buddies with humor and a hope for humanity. See the film, that scene is really heartbreaking.

On the other hand, The Vampire of Poverty is very satirical and cynical. It's a different tone than Story of Kindness. There is no sentimentality. It's very uncomfortable to watch as Cayolo, who plays an overzealous film director in this movie, drives in a taxi around Cali with his Bolex looking for homeless people, starving children, and the helpless. When he sees them, he hops out of the taxi and harasses them by filming them like a paparazzi. Metaphorically, he's a vampire preying on the suffering of the people. He humiliates and exploits them for his own good. The Vampires of Poverty portrays artistic pretense in a very disturbing way. Even more disturbing is whether in doing so, Cayolo and Ospina have become the vampires. That is, are they making this film as a satire of themselves since they are also filmmakers in real life? That question is difficult. The last scene of the film is despicable. I won't mention it. You have to watch it. This film made a lot of Colombians angry.

While poverty is a subject that is very sensitive in both countries, the brave filmmakers use the art of cinema as a microscope to peer into the heart of suffering. These two meta-films are truly a meditation of the art of cinema itself. I am moved by these two films and left with some heavy questions. I wonder how the heck to answer them in order not to sound like a pretentious a-hole.

What is the purpose of cinema? or Art? What is the artist's responsibility? Is she/he responsible for his/herself, the world, or the sake of art itself?

You can watch the films with the links below. They have English subtitles.

3 thoughts on “Chuyện tử tế and Agarrando Pueblo: Two Masterpieces from Vietnam and Colombia

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