stopped and watched carefully the scene in front of them. Holding An’s hand, Lam
felt under her skin the blood drained from her face.
a film shoot,” he said.
felt her heart jump slightly. Turning around, she looked at him. Her face
became transparent under the hundreds-of-watts of lamplight. Much to her
surprise, she smiled suddenly:
never knew how films were made.”
doesn’t matter. When you don’t know, watching films is more interesting.”
know so much about cinema, don’t you?”
so much. I once worked on a film project. Five years ago. Be then it was
uninteresting. When the project ended, I knew I wouldn’t
do that kind of work any more.”
“What’s uninteresting?” An asked in concentration.
He shuddered “It might be a feeling. Uncertainty. An improper judgment. Something
a film is a strange work, isn’t it?”
it is, maybe it isn’t.” He evaded her question. “But are you cold? Would you
like to eat something?”
shook her head. After working all day on the books, she only wanted to return
to her small flat where they lived together. After getting lost on a zigzag
alley and wandering for a long time, they finally found a road that did not run
through the filming location. They didn’t know the road but it led to a parking
lot two streets away. They didn’t speak a word on the way. The young woman kept
herself a short distance ahead of Lam. The sound of their footsteps resounded
against the brick sidewalk. Occasionally, a corn bunting
flew off a brown tiled roof and rushed into the dark sky. The sound of wings
flapping fell off, sounding thin and light. A world was still alive and
breathing. He wanted to say something, but stayed quiet. Meetings with trade
partners all day had exhausted him physically and mentally – so much so that he
felt understanding and compassion for others were absurd, totally unnecessary.
But he also knew An was as tired as he. Her legs, which were tightly bound in
her office shoes and brown socks, after a day of standing and walking non-stop to
and from different desks, were in motion without pause. An turned around suddenly
and waited for him for a moment. But under the urge of hidden thoughts, she then
walked more quickly.
was nearly eleven in the evening. Lam pulled up at a small supermarket. An
wanted to buy some fish, vegetables and fruit. He lowered the car’s glass-door,
smoking, waiting for her return. The red spot on the tip of the cigarette
sometimes glowed but he didn’t feel the familiar smell of a curl of smoke. He felt as though his body first became the empty hold of
a ship, and then became penetrable. The curl of smoke vanished into the
air with no place to linger. It was like an odd image carved out of the movie Hollow Man. He inserted a CD to get rid
of the unpleasant, illusory feeling.
voice of Laura Fygi raised. The introductory lines of Watch What Happens were sung slowly. It was the very CD he tried
listening to for the first time when he had emptied his pocket to buy the car.
Soon after that, he met An, loved her, and asked if they could live together.
Less than three years ago. But it seemed a hundred years. The CD player was
silent for a few seconds, then Ask Yourself
Why began. Lam suddenly
remembered why he had bought the CD.
At that time, a break up with his
first lover had left him in a heap of chaos and terror. Watching films was the
only thing that made him at ease. He was totally absorbed by both old and new films,
anytime, anywhere, anyway, until he was paralyzed. He once, as an uninvited
guest, went to a session of free screenings during a European culture week. He
remembered nothing except for a melody and a line of words repeatedly sung in You Had Be There. The film ended. He
went out of the theater and suddenly realized that everything was accepted.
After that, things inside him returned to normal. He got another job and quit
cinematography. Not getting further involved in art erased from his mind the
delusions that he had considered important. He was more comfortable. He changed
jobs twice more and bought an apartment. The only trace left after that unusual
period was the habit of listening to music. But the enjoyment he got from that
was waning over time.
An came out of the supermarket. She
held with one hand a big shopping bag from which a bouquet emerged. She carried
with another hand a small fish in a plastic bag filled with water. The shopping
had made her lively. She sat by him, telling him
about a small accounting mistake she had made at work. A lot of small talk with
a lot of details. Lam burst out laughing thinking about the chase of the hunter and hunted. When he laughed,
she kept quiet. The song Watch What Happens
came on again. Leaning against the passenger seat, she listened
attentively. All of a sudden, the air inside the car was filled with the smell
of earth, plants and grass.
film is this song in?” She asked suddenly.
“The Umbrellas in Cherbourg, maybe.”
never seen it.”
buy you the DVD.”
nodded slightly, took a look outside. Just like two dark rear-view mirrors, her
eyes didn’t reflect anything. He thought she was
probably distracted by images she had seen in films.
Waking up together on the weekends was a pleasant habit. Resting
his back on a high pillow, he turned on the television, tuned in to an economic
report, then to Discovery channel. The world of a marine life in the Pacific or
wild animals on the African savannah mesmerized him. He often paid attention to
the little animal that was a prey or a weak fellow-traveler on the screen. He
observed the way it tried and pushed its way through the herd hysterically, the
way it bent its legs and rushed when a hunter emerged unexpectedly, and the way
the animal collapsed and was dragged along the savannah by the mouth of the
hunter. And now, marine life and the escape of a phosphorous fish were
sorrowful to him. All the fish always speed away together in only one direction. In the blink of an eye, they vanished in the strong jet of water caused by the hunter.
The camera could not catch up with it and couldn’t find it in a huge
whirl under the sea.
Laying by him, An woke up. Her body was slender and warm. She
was wide awake with a spot of sunlight on her flat forehead.
are you thinking?” he asked, gently touching her short and soft hair.
“What does a cameraman feel when he’s shooting?”
“It’s just a routine.” He burst out laughing. “ Of course, there
is a little danger.”
“This world is an unbearable place. The cameraman think so. I
“What else do you suppose?” He felt a bit uncomfortable.
“I think it would be fun to be featured in a film.”
“No, really. I’m not joking!”
He rested his head on the pillow and laughed loudly again.
The young woman jumped out of bed and got dressed quickly in her house clothes.
She went to the kitchen to cook breakfast. She cooked fish porridge and quietly
sang some lines from the song Watch What Happens.
The bouquet of bright yellow flowers she had bought the day before turned out
to be a kind of vegetable. Lam made some coffee. When he said he had planned for
them to see a bigger apartment today, in preparation for their wedding at the
end of the year, An asked him if she could act in a film. She pushed her cup of
coffee nervously aside. He frowned and thought the joke was not funny any
The coffee shop was crowded in the morning. The music was
loud enough to crack glass windows. After looking around for a long time, Lam
could see a small path to the basement flat. A man in black shirt stopped him
at the steps. Strangers are not allowed to enter film sets. Lam said An’s name.
After a brief hesitation, the man let him in.
Vastly different from the cafe, the air of the basement was extremely
quiet. The cold light was focused on a corner. The faces around were concentrating.
Looking over the shoulders of two men in black uniforms, Lam saw An was acting.
He held his breath. Her familiar soft cheekbone was covered
with thick face-powder. Her hair was combed, pressing against her ears in an
unbelievably bad style. Her innocent face was deformed by the make up. She
concentrated on her supporting role, but her tenseness spoiled the scene. On
the third take, the director’s voice was no longer gentle. On the fourth, he shouted.
At first, Lam just wanted to shriek with laughter. Given his
experience, he realized that An didn’t have any gift
for art. Her quixotic reverie had not helped. An’s face still stood out – a nimbus
of light in the middle of a bright light. In her limpid eyes opened wide
emerged something that he had never seen in her. A desire to be seen by people
around her. A desperate craving for transformation. A crazy flight from the
encirclement of scratching and swollen bastions.
He took a seat and waited. The air conditioner buzzed lazily.
The cameraman was defining the face of a lead actress. A dilapidated but
professional wax mask made audiences feel good. Taking full advantage of An’s
unhappy situation, the leading actress gave a highly effective mixed look of
tiredness and contempt. In another scene, she slapped An’s face. A very hard slap.
An staggered and was about to fall but kept standing. She didn’t cry. Lam
wanted to push his way through the circles of people. He wanted to hold An’s
hand. He wanted to bring her out of the world she didn’t belong to. But her
persevering look, the passion in her eyes stopped him. Had he lost the passion
she now had? Why did he pull her down into the filthy pit he himself wanted to
escape from? When he had called the director to find An an opportunity to stand
in the cold light of the spacecraft, hadn’t he thoroughly understood that her
desires was not a joke?
The last scenes were shot in the suburbs. An sent Lam a text
message telling him to pick her up late. It was nearly two in the morning. The
disc by Laura Fygi was still inside the CD player. In the dim light of the tip
of a cigarette, he selected a song from titles, a song didn’t stir him from his
quiet state of mind now. Once Upon a Summertime
or Et si deman? Rachel or What Are You Doing the Rest of Your Life?
But at last, he put it away and went out.
The ground was immense. In the darkness, a residential
quarter set up as a background looked like a row of tents far away. Lam inhaled
deeply the smell of soil and grass. A gust of wind blowing from behind made him
feel cold and startled the grass. The space around him seemed to be transforming.
And he, a liberal being, was going for a leisurely walk in that space, despite
the fact that in no time he might rush off to dodge the bullet of a hunter or
the chase of a predator.
There was a soft call of his name. In the blackness of the
night An appeared slowly. She removed a layer of brown powder. Now, another
woman, energetic, sitting by him, daringly told him to speed the car up.
“What were you thinking when you waited for me?”
“About the hunters. About the
people who stand behind a camera. About people’s habits,” he said calmly.
“I knew you would be thinking
about the Discovery channel!”
“How did you know?” He looked surprised.
In the flash of light from a truck coming the other way, An’s
face lost its vacant and uncertain expression.
“That’s what I think about when we shoot.”
(Translated by MAI SON)