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‘Ru’ Displays the Full Beauty and Humanity of the Vietnamese Boat People’s Experience


film still of ru
Courtesy of TIFF

Adapted from award-winning Vietnamese-Canadian author Kim Thúy’s novel of the same name, Ru is a story about a refugee family fleeing the violent end of the Vietnam War and rebuilding their life in Quebec. Directed by Charles-Olivier Michaud, the film uses both Vietnamese and French dialogue.


A reserved and observant young daughter, Tinh (played by newcomer Chloé Djandji), quietly reckons with the horrors she witnessed in Vietnam while struggling to integrate in a new country and learning a different language. In her unfamiliar new home, she encounters strangeness but also deep humanity in the stories of other boat people as well as the kindness of local French-Canadians.


Ru is an exquisitely beautiful film to watch and experience. Cast in a nostalgic filter of 1970s Canada, colours of clothing are rendered in rich tones and the spectrum of the blue sky (an important feature of one character’s story) is given its due. Combined with editing that flashes forward and backward, the theme of memory and the double-edged sword of nostalgia and trauma is suffused in the work.


A sense of warmth in the cinematography gestures toward a sort of gentle filmmaking that suits the source material very well. Thúy’s work always manages to find beauty, compassion, and humanity in even the most uncomfortable and violent events. Ru does not shy away from the pain and heartache of the refugee family experience nor does it ignore war’s incredible cruelty and tragedy, but it is also full of stunningly beautiful moments of tenderness.


Ru lingers on the kindness and connection that people yearn for in new circumstances, finding countless life-affirming moments among Tinh, her family, and new Canadian community. The film functions almost as a safe space for outsiders while portraying the experiences of the Vietnamese boat people, who have not had a lot of representation in mainstream storytelling. Certainly, this is a rewarding watch.


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