Time Far Past (Osian’s Cinefan 7th Annual Asian Film Festival)

My second day at the Osian’s Cinefan Asian Film Festival ended rather tragically. I tripped over a protrusion in a barrier yesterday, apparently not the first person to manage that. Drove back 25 odd km with one arm operational. Just found out that it’s just a muscle pull, not a fracture or a ligament pull. I don’t know if I’ll be able to go again this year. Will try.

Day before yesterday, I made a last minute program with Deepan and Priya to watch The House of Sands and Fog, which was tragic, yet engrossing. A little more on that later. For now, I’m going to do my assignment in Group Dynamics, and base it on the movie I watched yesterday:

Time Far Past (Vietnam)

Family is the first group that an individual joins, and for most people, it is one that influences their behaviour and priorities for the rest of their lives. ‘A Time Far Past’, directed by Ho Quang Minh, is based on a Le Lu’s famous book, Thoi xa vang (A Distant Past), published in 1886. The film is set in North Vietnam in the 1950’s, where, after the departure of the French, communism was taking root. All across North Vietnam, local village administrations were being replaced by communes, and under the euphoria of veil of independence from the French, the Communist Party was developing structures for control. This is the story of how a family’s need for power destroys the lives and dreams of two pawns.

The movie begins with Sai, a young 10-12 year old boy swimming in the river. As Sai exits the water, his mother catches hold of him, and makes him change his clothes. Before we know it, Sai, who was just swimming in the river, is married to Tuyet, a woman 18-22 years old. Sai isn’t mature enough for marriage yet, and faced with ridicule from his friends, he develops an intense and immediate dislike for Tuyet. Tuyet is married into this family because it is respectable and among the more powerful families in the village. ‘This is the best we can do for you in these hard times. Have patience’ her mother tells Tuyet. While Sai’s family tries intermittently to bring the two together, Sai does his best to avoid her.

Other than Sai, their family includes his father, mother, Tuyet, and his elder brother Tinh and his wife. Tinh is a member of the communist party. His uncle is the district secretary of the Party, and the image of their family is crucial to their future in the Party. Due to their influence, Sai has been chosen to be one of the ‘Children of the Revolution’. Sai is more enthusiastic about Young Pioneers, the communists� youth organisation which is gaining power in his village, and continues to cast off his wife.

The scene that I’d like to consider for this assignment involves a decision in a crisis situation that can impact the future of three members of the family – Sai, Tuyet and Tinh. Sai, still a child, hits out at Tuyet and she leaves for her maternal home. Sai’s family has a conference over dinner to decide on a course of action.

Sai’s father recommends that for the happiness of both Sai and Tuyet, they be divorced. Sai’s mother feels that by leaving their household, Tuyet has insulted the family, and Sai shouldn’t be made to suffer the humiliation of being a 12 year old divorcee because of Tuyet’s inability to adapt.

Tinh steps in and says that the divorce would be bad for the familys image, and catastrophic for his and his uncle’s political career in the Communist Party. He convinces his family, that it is best for the future prospects of the family for them to retain a respectable image among the party cadre, and thus for Sai not to divorce. He agrees that the marriage was never a good idea, but what is done is done. It is best for Sai to go an apologise, and bring Tuyet back home. As long as they project an image that everything is hunky-dory, things will be okay.


The family is a team, more than a group. There seems to be shared leadership, and a common goal – the well being of the family. There is individual and mutual accountability, and well specified roles: The father is a teacher, the women are labourers and bread earners. Tinh affords them political power. While there is low differentiation, the integration is very high. Decisions are made based on discussions, and there is no apparent heirarchy, only influence. Collectively, their family exhibits a high group serving need, and the success of an individual within the team serves group goals. The team is governed more by goals than targets, and they trust each other to do what is best for the family. Communication is informal, open, direct and straight-forward. Members make an effort to understand each others’ viewpoint. There is no formal leader of this family.

However, Tinh’s self serving need, throughout the movie, overrides the group serving need. He is more reactive than proactive and seeks to hard-sell self-serving decisions by making them seem group-serving. He takes initiative to grab power, and involves members of the family to facilitate quicker decision making, in order to retain control of the situation, while at the same time making it seem that he is working for the betterment of the family. He ignores conflicts between members until they become destructive. His behaviour is primarily negative socio-emotional. He uses a combination of both personal appeals and pressure in order to make his family accept his suggestion. He uses power that is based both on connections and referrals.

Parson’s sequence for group formation: ALIG – First the group structure and roles are worked out, Stability allowed to develop before structures are adjusted for effective working. Finally, they work towards attainment of common goals.

Another scene, that I feel deserves a mention here is the last scene of the movie, when for a family photograph with his daughter, Sai invites his family members to stand next to him. At last, he brings Tuyet and she bursts out crying, standing next to him. This is his first sign of acceptance in 25 years of married life, and she is overwhelmed by her emotions at that moment. The photographer’s repeated requests asking her to stop crying and smile for the photograph are superfluous in the context of the moment. One can, however, still argue that Sai’s actions were socio-emotional: she was the only family member not present in the photograph.


(Loved the movie. Damn that barrier.)


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