DOXA 2019 review: Pomelo


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      Demolition is a chaotic job in Hanoi, as roaring excavators send rebar, dust clouds, and concrete spilling out onto streets full of motorbikes. But it’s a messy business in other ways, too, as revealed in this contemplative, vérité documentary by Phuong Thao Tran and Swann Dubus.

      They turn their lens on a once-atmospheric old quarter of Hanoi, where the government has expropriated homes to make way for a new highway. Loudspeakers direct residents to move out, scavengers scrabble for discarded metal, migrant workers wield sledge hammers, and site bosses scream from the sidelines. And just wait till the gold-chained gangsters arrive.

      The directors cut regularly back to a thriving DIY hair-cutting school, its young, spiky-coiffed students some of the last tenants amid the growing mountains of debris that surround them. The labours of this new generation contrast meaningfully with those of the people eking out a living outside its doors.

      Rubble has never been shot so beautifully, the directors finding a kind of moving poetry in the chaos here—the school’s students clipping mannequin heads, the pomelo trees intermixing with the tumbling red bricks, the women in conical hats driving mopeds loaded with crumpled metal. They’ve found a visceral way to show not just the complex contradictions of Vietnamese society, but of a world bent on progress at all costs.

      Cinematheque, May 4 (9:15 p.m.) and May 8 (2:30 p.m.)