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Vietnam’s Past and Present Mingle in Locarno’s ‘Cu Li Never Cries’

Vietnamese filmmaker Pham Ngoc Lan is all set to make his feature debut with his satirical comedy-drama “Cu Li Never Cries,” which is being presented in Locarno Festival’s Open Doors program.

In the film, Lady M., a blue-collar retiree in Vietnam, returns to Berlin when she learns that her estranged German husband has died. The legacy her husband has left her is an urn with his ashes and Cu Li, his pet pygmy slow Loris (a primate found primarily in Southeast Asia). Upon returning to Vietnam, Lady M. finds that her pregnant niece Van is rushing into marriage, and fears that she will make the same life mistakes as she did. Lady M. proceeds to embark upon a journey retracing her memories, evoking Vietnam’s storied past.

Lan’s shorts have travelled the world. His 2016 short “Another City” was nominated for the Golden Bear at Berlin and has won numerous awards including the Uppsala Award in memory of Ingmar Bergman; a special mention at the Indie Lisboa; best director at Hanoi; and a special mention at the Chicago Underground film festival. 2019’s “Blessed Land” also scored a Golden Bear nomination, won a special mention at Las Palmas, and had considerable festival play, including at Vienna, Hamburg, Moov in Belgium and Short Waves in Poland.

“As a former architect my view of the world tended to be from the perspective of structure and balance,” Lan says in his director’s statement. “But the everyday experience of living in Vietnam is the opposite of this: chaotic and colorful as diverse cultures coalesce and collide.”

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The film is produced by Bradley Liew at Epicmedia Productions in the Philippines. The company is best known for producing “That Thing Called Tadhana” (2014), which became one of the highest grossing independent films in Philippine’s box-office history, Lav Diaz’s Berlinale Silver Bear winning “A Lullaby to the Sorrowful Mystery” (2016), and Berlinale 2018 main competition film “Season of the Devil.”

The co-producers are DNY Vietnam Productions of Vietnam (“Big Father, Small Father, and Other Stories”), and Acrobates Films of France (“A Yellow Bird”).

“Cu Li Never Cries” was previously presented at Cannes’ Cinefondation L’Atelier, Busan’s Asian Project Market, SEAFIC x PAS, Produire au Sud’s Southeast Asia workshop, and Talents Tokyo.

Principal photography on the film is penciled in for mid-2020.

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