Nguyen Trinh Thi’s documentary focuses on Vietnam’s Dao Mau religion, also known as the Mother Goddess faith, and its unique clergy, who call themselves mediums because they channel the various spirits and deities who serve as the foundation of the faith. According to this film, a very large number of mediums are effeminate gay men who dress up in elaborate female ritual clothing to perform their duties (often while smoking cigarettes!). In a way, it’s the only job available – the mediums interviewed here claim there is no other place for them in the homophobic Vietnamese society.
“Love Man Love Women” works best in dissecting Vietnam’s attitudes towards its gay community. Exposure to Western ideals have emboldened some gay men to be more open about their lifestyle, but negative attitudes still require others to be more discreet. But emotional scars from the society’s hostility to gays remains – one man bitterly refers to his homosexuality as “Heaven’s punishment.”
Less successful, however, is the film’s attempt to explain the complex Dao Mau theology. Sadly, more attention is paid to the fawning over the costuming and make-up of the mediums instead of explaining the religion’s basics, history or its place in modern Vietnam. It also doesn’t help that the filmmaker has a lethal habit of framing his interviews with excessively tight close-up at a tilted angle amid poor lighting, which presents his subjects in an extremely unflattering manner.
Anyone seeking insight about Asian religions will be disappointed with this film, but those interested in the state of gay life in Vietnam will enjoy this presentation.