“Love” (Yêu) is a saccharine film about friendship, family and love, which all-too-gently touches on the little-discussed issue of lesbianism in Vietnam. Tu, played by Gil Le, and Nhi, played by Hanoi born Chi Pu, meet as 10 year old school girls, quickly becoming friends. However, a tragedy in Tu’s life forces her to move out of the city, and she only able to return years later to have an emotional reunion with her old school friend. They are instant friends again.
The two women share adventures, intimate moments and support each other through family tragedies. Nhi has a bland, overbearing boyfriend while Tu has a suitor of her own, but through all this it becomes clear the two young women have feelings that transcend the platonic.
Released in 2015, the film served as the debut feature of Vietnamese director Viet Max, a self-taught film maker who was a break-dancer in a previous career. Max has described the film as “soft, like a cat,” and as a debut perhaps the picture should be given some leeway, as Max shows an inability to pull compelling performances from the actors, not to mention the bland cinematography. It is odd that in a country so rife with color and local life that such aspects have been completely sanitized and there a little signs of street life, vibrancy or even traffic here, the film having a drab almost monochrome quality about it.
“Love” shows dynamic, empathetic lesbian characters who, although facing tragedy, ultimately find happiness.
To its credit the film does have heart, and it deals competently with issues of coming out, social stigma towards the LGBTQ+ community, and familial obligations that restrict people from fully expressing their identity, particularly lower-class Vietnamese women. The city’s first ever pride parade took place in Hanoi in 2012, only three years before the release of “Love.” Accordingly issues of sex are dealt with using a hyper-subtlety that might leave the eyes-rolling of some viewers. There are no sweaty bed sheets here, and the film never gets as steamy as a singular kiss in the rain which quickly cuts to black. Nevertheless in the context of Vietnamese film, it is bold.
Another plus point is that the film does not got overly bogged down in beating the lesbian drum and instead, it is fair to argue, the film plays out on its own merits and is as much about family and friendship as it is about sexuality. Both Tu and Nhi care deeply for their family and would do anything to preserve them. They also feel a need to protect and support each other; even as children the strong spirited Tu saves Nhi from a group of bullies. As the two women face family tragedies such as depression, alcoholism and death, the constant in their lives is each other. This, perhaps as much as sexual longing, is the love of the film’s title — true love, always being there for each other.
However the films role in LGBTQ+ rights and representation should not be understated, especially in a Confucian leaning country such as Vietnam. And though the characters are of the cookie-cutter variety and the clichés heavy-handed, “Love” shows dynamic, empathetic lesbian characters who, although facing tragedy, ultimately find happiness.