French film offers lessons in life, solidarity

Immersion: Frederic Michalak plants rice with a Black Lo Lo woman. — File Photo

Living in the remote mountainous region of northern Cao Bang Province, the small community achieved popularity as "one of the most sentimental people on the planet" when France 2 channel presenter Frederic Lopez lived and worked with them for 15 days as part of a documentary on the group.

The film, Rendez-vous in an Unknown Region with the Black Lo Lo People, also features famous French rugby player Frederic Michalak, who partook in the group's daily activities.

The film screened in Ha Noi for the first time last week since airing on France 2, DVD and YouTube in November last year.

"I will never forget them," Michalak told Lopez and the 7.7 million viewers on the French channel.

"I will always keep in my heart the souvenirs of their solidarity, their kindness and in particular, their big smiles.

Michalak got up at 4am everyday, ploughing and planting rice from 6am until 7pm. He also looked after children and cut vegetables to feed the pigs while spending most evenings learning Vietnamese with the villagers.

"I never knew they worked so hard", he said, adding with a smile, "It was tougher than preparing for the Rugby World Cup."

Back in France, Michalak admitted to having lost 7 kilos during his stay in Viet Nam.

"I met fantastic people who treated me as one of their own. The way they helped each other and worked together as well as their respect for family and ancestors really impressed me," he said.

At the end of the film, Michalak bursted into tears when saying good-bye to the villagers.

"I will not forget you," he managed to say between sobs.

The film was the second most appreciated in a series of 17 French reality shows entitled Rendez vous en Terre Inconnue (Rendez-vous in an Unknown Region), after a film on Mongolia, screened in 2010. The concept entails a star discovering an unknown region and meeting unknown people, so allowing audiences to learn about new cultures and traditions threatened by modern life.

The film wowed viewers in France not only thanks to the magnificent mountainous landscapes, but also to the values it sought to bring across.

"What a rich experience witnessing the lives of such simple and hospitable people. I hope they are able to preserve their extraordinary lifestyles. The show has certainly taught me a lot," says audience Pierre-Antoine Lepine.

According to France 2, the film gained considerable popularity in Belgium before it finally reached France itself.

"I was very touched to watch the fathers look after the children and cook for their wives. The work seemed to have a capital importance for them. It was a primordial quality. The fact that the village learns to read and to write in the evening after working on the fields shows that they have a strong attachment to their culture. They are not closed to the world. I wonder if electricity and the television of the modern world will one day change their customs," says Leila Le Maki from Belgium.

As in France and Belgium, the film had a significant impact on Vietnamese audiences.

"I was touched to see the smiles on the face of everyone and to learn about a community so cut off from the outside world. The values that seem to be so natural in their lives are not easily found in our modern society," says Nguyen Thi Chi.

According to Dang Duc Tue, a Vietnamese journalist in charge of filmmaking logistics, four interpreters assisted the French crew in communicating with the Lo Lo, giving them a unique opportunity to share in sincere moments and emotions.

After Ha Noi, the film will be shown in HCM City on Saturday at the IDECAF, 31 Thai Van Lung Street. — VNS