Saigon has this indescribable energy. And it’s not just the buzz of motorbikes (although there is that too). There’s the romantic tree-lined boulevards, and the modernist buildings, and the post-apocalyptic uninhabited freeways of Thu Thiem, and the blazing, vertiginous markers of the modern metropolis, skyscrapers like the Bitexco Tower and the Landmark 81.
Đọc bài viết bằng Tiếng Việt
But most of all, the energy is at street level, a “landscape that’s constantly reinventing itself.” The faded yellow walls, the chess-board hems, and the banh mi seller on her bike, with his recorded sales pitch looping over and over, and the off-key karaoke echoing from somewhere across the street.
And there’s the sense of community, as the broad expanse of the city draws in to a focused downtown area, and to mushrooming District 2 over the bridge. It’s a condensed space that forces a kind of human friction, a rubbing together of ideas, and plans and schemes, that evolve with each contact.
Then there’s the region outside, where Saigon’s souls connect, and where creatives from this part of the world – like the Monopo Tokyo team of Georgi, Yoshi, and Shun – peer in with greater interest than ever.
Saigon Souls Is For Those Who Feel Alone
The Monopo Saigon office’s Saigon Souls art film captures all that in three-minutes. As well as encapsulating some of the loneliness and angst of big city life, for “those who feel alone in the midst of their turbulent surroundings.”
“I think we all have souls,” Robin Mahieux says, “this thing that manifests in our mind and in our feelings.” And, for him, relocation and dislocation are ways to provoke an understanding of how the soul works, “to dive into it, move with it.”
The film captures “deliberately everyday scenes and spaces” which choreographed interpretive dancers interact with. And, fittingly, Monopo’s Saigon Souls project grew out of lockdown, a time when existential soul-searching reached its peak.
“The bigger idea came to us before that, in early 2021,” Robin Mahieux explains about the Saigon Souls platform that will “represent people from Saigon in an authentic way and capture a Saigon state of mind, and be a space for individuals to express their love letters to the city.”
For the art film that’s launched the platform, conceived shortly after, the dancers continued to rehearse online even during lockdown. They finally got to shoot in November 2021.
“You Are Saigonese If You Think You Are”
“You are Saigonese if you think that you are, whether you just arrived, just returned or have been living here your whole life,” the team of creatives led by Robin Mahieux and Wiiki (Vicki Dang) announce in the film’s notes. For the art film Saigon Souls they worked with some other Saigon souls: Ray Lavers as cinematographer, VNDtown, Booncha Studio and producer Nodey.
Nodey’s parents lived in Saigon for a few years in the 1950s. But then they relocated to France where Nodey was born and lived. That was right up until four years ago when he moved to Saigon (we first interviewed him shortly after).
“I really connected with Saigon,” he says. “I feel more myself after four years here than in Paris, where I spent over 30 years.” “Right,” Robin agrees, “I feel some part of me belongs to Saigon too.”
For Saigon Souls, the concept and the shoot came first. “We actually first based it around a different piece of music,” Robin continues. Then Robin and the team showed Nodey an early cut to gauge his interest. “Saigon had begun to slowly reopen,” Nodey says, “and I really connected to the feeling of relief encapsulated in this film – which informed the direction of the music too.”
The soundtrack crackles to life with the sounds of Saigon’s streets. “The streets have so much noise, a distinctive smell, and this intense energy,” Nodey adds, “so we start off with those sounds – scooters and construction workers and street sweepers.”
Then the characters awaken – one in an empty room furnished only with a clothes rack, a couple outside a pharmacy in a claustrophobic alley – as the soundtrack builds.
“How would I describe the film Saigon Souls?” Nodey asks. “That’s hard. I guess it’s just a concentration of energy…with moments of peacefulness and a really open spirit.”