Staff picks: Nguyễn Trinh Thi

Staff picks: Nguyễn Trinh Thi


Nguyễn Trinh Thi, I Died for Beauty (excerpt), 2012.

August 1, 2022
Staff picks: Nguyễn Trinh Thi
August 1–31, 2022
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I want to unpick the way we look at things.
—Nguyễn Trinh Thi

e-flux Video & Film is excited to present Fifth Cinema (2018) and I Died for Beauty (2012), two films by Nguyễn Trinh Thi featured as the August 2022 edition of our monthly series Staff Picks. Nguyễn’s moving-image works investigate the power of sound and listening as well as the various interconnections between image, sound, and environment, with a special emphasis on history, memory, representation, landscape, indigeneity, and ecology.


Fifth Cinema, 2018, 56 minutes
In this work Nguyễn interrogates local official histories and external viewpoints on Vietnam, together with the wider ideals of women and men, the role of the artist in society, and the landscape as metaphor. Fifth Cinema begins with a quiet statement “I am a filmmaker, as you know.” That text and what follows, by Māori filmmaker Barry Barclay, who coined the term Fourth Cinema to distinguish Indigenous cinema from the established First, Second, and Third Cinema framework, provides structure to Nguyễn’s hybrid essay film that moves on multiple cinematic and topical terrains. Eschewing voice in favor of the written word, and juxtaposing moving images of the filmmaker’s own daughter with archival images of Vietnamese women seen through the lens of the “ship’s officers,” the film slowly leads the viewer through a narrative of colonialism, indigeneity, and cinematic limitations in representation. The film continues Nguyễn’s practice of combining her own moving images with found footage to create works that confront issues within a specifically Vietnamese context, but that are also universal. Personal accounts, popular movies, government films, news footage, documentary material, home movies sold on eBay, and YouTube videos are interwoven with the artist’s own material in her consideration of how the camera mediates understanding.

I Died for Beauty, 2012, 8 minutes
Set in a factory in Asia during an undefined celebration event, Europeans in suits are seen in long wandering shots as they greet one another, shake hands discreetly, and look about themselves expectantly. Further into this ambiguous opening, and propelled by classical Western opera and symphonic orchestrations, Asian workers are observed putting finishing touches of paint and polish onto gleaming surfaces of what will soon be on display in motorbike showrooms. The images and music are sharply punctuated by the abrupt and raw intrusions of live factory sounds that conclude in a jarring visual exclamation, exhuming the verses of an Emily Dickinson poem and laying them out in a contemporary and globalized context.

Watch the films here.

About the artist
Nguyễn Trinh Thi is a Hanoi-based filmmaker and artist, and a founder of the documentary video organization DocLab in Hanoi. In her films and installations Nguyễn examines issues concerning society and history—especially the complex traumatic history of her home country Vietnam and its after-effects in the present. Nguyen uses montage to compose her work, drawing on different image media from her own audio and visual recordings to found footage and still images from postcards, photography, newsreels, Hollywood films, and ethnographic footage. 

About the series 
e-flux Video & Film: Staff Picks is a monthly streaming series of staff picks and recommended videos designed to disrupt the monotony of an algorithm. Before the end times of big data, we used to discover suggested content along dusty shelves in video rental stores, where Post-it notes scribbled by shift workers implored us to experience the same movies that made them guffaw, scream, or weep. Sometimes the content bored us, sometimes it overwhelmed us, and sometimes, as if by magic, it was just right. e-flux invites you to relive this rental store mode of perusal, with personalized picks curated through judgment that does not take into consideration your viewing history. 

For more information, contact program [​at​]

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August 1, 2022

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