A Hundred Years of Happiness
Director: Jakeb Anhvu
Sydney Film Festival
Review by Sarah List
Tram had plans to study English in Australia, but those were scuttled when she failed the entry tests. Marriage to a foreign national was the next best option for the prospects of a daughter of a farming family, and before long she was engaged to a South Korean man.
We meet Tram and her family in the lead up to her wedding day. Tram is learning to cook for her husband to be, in the corrugated iron dwelling her family calls home. Their farm and village life looks idyllic to outsiders, but the reality is life is one of poverty which is why so many brides look for marriage in the cities or overseas.
Tram first meets her husband on her wedding day, after he has flown in from South Korea. The transactional nature of the union is highlighted when none of the guests know his name and indeed wonder if Tram even knows (we never find out what his name is). The ceremony is conducted entirely in Vietnamese, with the groom oblivious to any of the proceedings – with the exception of the universal language of celebratory beer drinking afterwards.
It’s difficult to pinpoint the genre of this documentary, being part rural Vietnamese life travelogue and part diary of an arranged marriage. With sparse dialogue and little background into the custom, I felt as uninformed about Tram and her husband as I’m sure they felt for one another on their wedding day. So many questions went unanswered, such as how frequent are international marriages in Vietnam? How are they facilitated? How do each of the parties feel about the process? What is life like for the bride when she travels to a country where she does not speak the language? Can happiness be found between the couple under these circumstances? Does it even matter? As such, the resulting documentary was a little unsatisfying as I felt as though I should have learned more about Tram and her husband, or more about the practice of international arranged marriages generally.