Review of award-winning Vietnamese film Buffalo Boy by Adam Quinn

At the time of writing, I am living in Vietnam, and so I have been trying to sample some Vietnamese films. Mùa len trâu – Buffalo Boy (2004) on youtube here, directed by Minh Nguyen-Vo is a great example of Vietnamese filmmaking talent and won a Special Award at Film Festival in Locarno in Switzerland, Best Director Award at Chicago Film Festival, The Grand Prix at Amiens Film Festival, and the Special Award at Amazonas Film Festival in Brasil

Buffalo Boy follows Kim, a 15-year-old farmer living with his parents in the Mekong River Delta during the 1940s, where for half the year the land is deep underwater. Kim volunteers to take his family’s three buffalo inland so they can graze, and in doing so learns much about the world and himself. It is an honest, if at times brutal, portrayal of a way of life that is far removed from what we know.

A relatively low-budget production, Buffalo Boy creates an authentic, intimate atmosphere that is used to both reach the characters and expose the audience. We follow Kim through an incredible range of experiences on his journeys, from fighting off rival buffalo herders to falling in love. Throughout all of this we are reminded of the constant hardships faced by the people in this place at this time. Between poverty, the land, and French colonial rule, the characters of Buffalo Boy remain resilient and strong, facing adversity with hope and determination. The cast of characters make up a tapestry of the world Kim inhabits, we see how everyone is struggling, and the various ways they deal with it. We can see both the best and the worst of humanity in the actions the characters take, demonstrating the polarizing nature of these dire circumstances. As the film progresses, we see Kim grow up, and see a fascinating evolution in his character and actions. We can see the influence all the other characters have on him in their own way, and how these build into Kim becoming a man.

Buffalo Boy is not an uplifting watch. It is slowly paced and pretty grim, depicting some fairly harrowing circumstances. We are challenged along with Kim, and share in both his high-and low-points. While it is not a narrative flow many will be familiar with, it brings a unique perspective on many familiar themes; poverty, friendship, crime, violence, sex, and family; to name a few. It is an exposure, both cinematically and generally, to a place and a way of life that is so different from our own, and is worth watching for that reason alone. Throw in some incredible cinematography, outstanding performances, captivating dialogue and 300 buffalo and this is not one to miss.

Buffalo Boy is available on YouTube

3.5 stars

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