Kim Thuy on RU (TIFF 2023) – Liz Braun interviews

0 Flares 0 Flares ×

Award-winning Canadian author Kim Thuy recently had the experience of seeing her best-selling novel, Ru, transformed into a film of the same name.

She watched along with TIFF audiences who were present at the world premiere. Ru is Thuy’s own story about coming to Canada in childhood as one of the “boat people” who fled Vietnam in the ‘70s after the fall of Saigon. The vignettes and closely observed moments in her memoir are captured and woven together into a beautiful film from director/writer Charles-Olivier Michaud, co-writer Jacques Davidts and cinematographer Jean-Francois Lord.

Thuy has a writing credit and she’s a producer, “And I was with them every single step of the way on the film,” she said in a TIFF interview, “not because they needed me, but because we chatted a lot and became friends.

“We talked about art, social issues, political issues — everything besides the book and the movie. And because of that I think the director understands me better than I understand myself.

“He always says I have this strange way of living, in the sense I’m very much present at anything, but at the same time I have a double me, I’m somewhere outside of that bubble looking in. So I’m always in that position of observing the whole scene at the same time that I’m living it.

“And he said maybe that’s why I see all the details. And he kind of made his movie that way.”

The child we meet in Thuy’s book (and film) thrived in Canada. Thuy moved to Montreal with her family and worked as a seamstress, cashier, cook and interpreter, in addition to becoming a best-selling author of 8 books, a successful restaurateur and a lawyer.

She attended the University of Montreal and got a degree in linguistics and translation, then studied law at the same school. Thuy went to work at a Montreal-based law firm, where she met her husband. They have two children.

Among her many awards and accolades for literature, Thuy was one of four finalists for the 2018 Nobel Alternative Prize. Her books have sold a million copies in 40 countries and in 30-plus languages.

Thuy eventually returned to Vietnam and acted as an advisor to the Vietnamese government in its transition to democracy.

She is a Knight of the National Order of Quebec.

Given the award-winning material, it’s probably not that surprising that Ru is such a good film.

And the casting is terrific. Thuy shows her endlessly positive nature by saying that the 10 year slog to get this movie made was actually a lucky break — because it brought the filmmakers the remarkable child actor, Chloe Djandji.

“We are the luckiest people on earth. That’s why we had to wait ten years to make this movie — because Chloe was not born! Everything happens for a reason and we had challenges all the way through, waiting 10 years, but it was meant for something.

“We didn’t know then but we know now. We were waiting for all these actors to be ready for us.”

Thuy described with absolute joy and wonder the experience of watching a movie audience watch Ru.

“It was incredible to almost hear them stop breathing at certain moments. In the movie, there’s one scene where the director asked for 6 seconds of absolute silence, no sound at all, and I don’t know if I was hallucinating or not but it felt like the whole room stopped breathing at the same time!”

And of course, she heard them cry, too. Ru is very moving.

“Yes. A friend of mine said the lady next to him finished the whole tissue package she had with her. That was a good sign.”

One of the unexpected joys of Ru is the movie’s loving depiction of Canada and her people.

“It’s my love letter to Canadians. I would say that the message I wanted to deliver was to remind us that it’s okay to not understand,” said Thuy, referencing the minor cultural and linguistic missteps captured in Ru as the newcomers and their sponsors adjust to one another.

“It is okay to have all kinds of misunderstandings, but we are capable of this love. We are capable of this generosity. So I hope the audience will remember that when the intention is pure, there’s no problem to have misunderstandings.”

She adds, “We forget to talk about the importance of the small gestures of daily life. I hope the movie conveyed that. It was such a privilege to be able to put on screen the beauty of everyday life. To be ordinary is extraordinary to me.”

0 Flares Twitter 0 Facebook 0 0 Flares ×

Liz Braun

Liz Braun has contributed entertainment stories in print and on radio and TV in Canada for 30 years. She served as film critic for the Toronto Sun and for the Postmedia chain of newspapers.