Review: Miss Hanoi
by Fabien Lemercier
- Zdenek Viktora’s fresh take on the Eastern European thriller immerses the viewer in a dual investigation in the heart of the Czech Vietnamese community
"You're too polite, you should follow your instincts, never give in, and don't believe everything you're told." By focusing on a police investigation into an intricate murder conducted by a mismatched duo, the Czech director Zdenek Viktora could have travelled the beaten path of genre cinema, but instead chose to inject a relatively new dimension into his Central European production by including the Czech Vietnamese community in the plot of his second feature film, Miss Hanoi [+see also:
film profile], presented at the 19th Arras Film Festival in the Visions of the East section.
"Is your mother still angry? She needs to get used to being a police officer." For Ahn (Ha Thanh Spetlikova), the discovery of the body of a local thug, hanged by a lake, with his two forearms broken, on the edge of a small town in northern Bohemia – where she began her career in the police force – is far from insignificant. The man had been released from prison a few days earlier, after four years behind bars (a reduced sentence because he was a minor at the time) for the murder of Hien, nicknamed Miss Hanoi because she was applying to participate in beauty pageants at the time of her death. Hien’s sister is called Hai, and was Ahn's lover at the time, who has just resurfaced without warning after four years. Further complicating matters, the young police officer’s mother – who runs a shop in a very large and exclusively Vietnamese commercial area (Sapa) – is linked both financially and amicably to the dead girl's family, which is still visibly in mourning. A mess into which Kriz (David Novotny), the head of the criminal investigations department – who rocks up unannounced to conduct the investigation – ploughs with little tact, an authoritarian and rather rude – if not a little racist – individual who needs Anh’s help to decipher an Asian community he knows nothing about. From research into witnesses to alibi checks, the search for the truth leads the duo down new avenues, while Anh conducts her own parallel investigation on the side, progressively caught between her feelings and her duties, the past and the present, her home community and her adoptive country…
Beyond its classic police plot, which pans out effectively thanks to its layered approach, some solid performances and an effective mise-en-scene, Miss Hanoi is an astonishing film that lifts the veil, in almost documentary style, on the Czech Vietnamese community. A clever way to address integration issues (given that this is the second generation of immigrants) and xenophobia in Central Europe, where the existence of a very active Asian minority community is often largely overlooked. Without exactly revolutionising the police genre, the film plays with genre symbols with ease (interrogations, tailing people, chases, diary entries and video evidence, reinterpreting the past in the light of the present and the mutual taming of two colleagues who must learn to get to know each other and overcome their differences, etc.) and most importantly, it sheds light on prejudices and the pushes and pulls of a dual culture.
Produced by Screenplay By, Miss Hanoi is being sold internationally by the Swiss company Kali Films.
(Translated from French)
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