In 2045, humanity has made it to Mars and set up a colony there where people have been setting out plans for the future. However, one man has been reflecting on the past, and the life in Vietnam he has left behind, so has decided to make this film from footage collected over a quarter of a century ago - and more - that will fill in many gaps of his fading memories, fading because once you are on another world, your mind becomes filled with the imagery of that planet. Specifically, he wants to record the lives of three Vietnamese tribes who had been living in caves in the jungle ever since the American War had displaced them, so through phone calls back to his elderly father, he begins to expand on a group not much highlighted then or since...
Director Minh Quy Truong served up his first feature (after some shorts) which adopted a science fiction flavour for what was a story that on first look appeared all to prosaic, the lives of an impoverished subset of East Asian folks neglected by the wider world at large. The notion that the only person who remembers them in the future is also the one who is most likely to forget them further into those coming decades was intended to be sobering, judging by the narration we were offered, but tapped into the fact that eventually, we will all be forgotten in the passing of time, and everything we do will be rendered insignificant. The tribespeople we witnessed did nothing significant on a global scale, the implication being they had been forgotten for ages.
There were three subsets of these jungle denizens, the Ruc, Kor and Hmong, though the outsider would generally have a lot of trouble working out which were which as they all existed in much the same lifestyle. But indicating they lived in caves in the undergrowth of a rainforest made them sound as if they lived in an exotic, even romantic set of circumstances, some exquisite creatures fresh from the Vietnamese equivalent of the Garden of Eden, when in fact it they were not clad in leaves with flowers in their hair, but dressed in mundane clothes and eked out a living catching and eating any animal they could lay their hands on (including monkeys) and whatever greens and berries were available from the plants that grew in the area, as makeshift homes are finally being built for them to stay in.
Why were these individuals important, then? Why film them at all if, as we find out at the end, they are to be forgotten by the Mars astronaut - and by implication, everyone else - anyway? While the unseen narrator has a science fictional take on how he sees his days, so do these tribes, and they existed in real life rather than some future that may never come to fruition. They don't see time the way we Westerners do, but as a series of images they can trace back to the point of their births (as far as we can discern), which kind of renders them space aliens from an alien world themselves, except that world is Earth and we share it with them. The war hangs heavy on their culture, but so does prejudice that means they are effectively an underclass, and we are invited to recognise that once the film is over, they will pass into our memories and eventually, sooner or later, be forgotten as well. This was decked out in primitive special effects, mostly negatives and face blurring software to enhance and illustrate the point, though eventually you may find yourself somewhat lost in its dreamlike ruminations.
[Click here to watch on MUBI.]