In the indigenous practice of the Jarai people in the Central Highlands of Vietnam, tin huts are used as burial sites where loved ones communicate with the souls of their deceased relatives and express their grief. In Minh Quý Trương’s second feature, The Tree House, cinema functions in a similar way.
The setting is 2045. A man sits 54.6 million kilometers away from Earth, on Mars, a planet now occupied by humans and where cinema has become a hobby of the past. One of a handful of items he has brought with him is a camera, and what we are shown is footage that he had forgotten he had shot. We get hints of what life is like on Mars, but what we overwhelmingly perceive is his melancholy, his yearning for his past life with his feet firmly on Earth. Cinema, for this man and perhaps for us, becomes a channel to be united with others and feel less isolated.
While we might have expected footage from family vacations, what we are shown are recollections of another past, that of traditional practices of the Central Highlands region. The film functions as a time capsule, but one that is aware of the history of malpractice in ethnographic filmmaking. Interspersing film with American-credited footage shot by locals, the man on Mars contemplates the authorship of an image and of who gets to tell the stories when it comes to indigenous pasts and presents. By not clearly demarcating the lines between what lies in the past, present and future, Minh declares the presence of memory as a fundamental facet of life in the future.