Interview : Linh-Dan Pham

Encounter with the actrice of Abdel Raouf Dafri’s first feature film that explores the damages of the Algerian War.

By Paola Dicelli
Translated by : Laetitia Guidicelli

Reading Time 5 min.

The Breitner Commando


Since R.A.S or Le Pistonné early 70’s, there were little remarkable movies about the Algerian War. For his first feature film as a director (he was before a screenwriter, A Prophet by Jacques Audiard) Abdel Raouf Dafri offers a film about a violent and desperate war. The action takes place in 1960, at the end of the war and pictures, with objectivity, the abuses in both parts. The strengh of the film relies on its absence of good and bad and besides movies such as Apocalypse Now, The Dirty Dozen and The 317th Platoon. The french commander is led by the Colonel Breitner, an old german officer of the Second World War who served in Indochine. By his side, Soua-Ly Yang, native from the minority Hmong pro-french, played by Linh-Dan Pham whom we met in London. Best female hope for The beat that my heart skipped by Jacques Audiard, she arrives with a smile and short hair for her new movie. In this bar, where only the ones with invitation come in, the actress choses her words wisely in order to reach precision. A heritage of her asian culture, she says, although she feels more french. Between humility and determination, Linh-Dan Pham speak to us about her part, her career and her place among the minorities in french cinema.

For so long, we willingly forgot about women combatants.

SomewhereElse : How did you prepare for this character who is a combatant of Indochina War and takes back the arms for the Algerian War ?

 Linh-Dan Pham : In Indochina or in Algeria, Soua-Ly Yang is a woman who fights for her survival. She stays mainly silent and only talks to say the essential. As everything should go trough the body to make her primal side stand out, I took Krav-Maga classes, the best technique for a beginner. I also trained for gun fires in order not to jump everytime I heard a gunshot !

  The universality of violence seems to be the theme of your new film…

Absolutely. I would even say it underlines the absurdity of war. During each conflict, in Indochina, in Algeria, in Vietnam, for the Americans, there was always a moment where one of the parts knew it failed. However, it kept sending men who died for a lost cause. There is no meaning.

 In Indochina (1992), you played a reserved Vietnamese princess. Twenty seven years later, you embody a combatant. Are you aware of this evolution ?

Yes, but it has more to do with the evolution of society than my personal evolution. At that particular time, we would have never seen a warrior Vietnamese princess because for a long time we willingly forgot there were women combatants. Today, it’s changing with movies such as Sisters in Arms by Caroline Fourest (2019) or The Breitner Commando, who is actually directed by a man !

Same difficulty for the minorities. In the US, asian actresses, victims of discrimination are beginning to make their voices heard. What is the situation in France for you ?

For asian actresses, the problem isn’t France. Even if the propositions were indeed clichés, I was always offered roles as a woman and not as a Vietnamese. I played characters named Brigitte or Camille ! The problem comes rather from asian culture, in which it is not well accepted to chose an artistic career. Parents have to evolve in that field.

 Moreover, after Indochina and a nomination at the Césars, you took a ten year break from your career. A deliberate choice ?

In a way, yes. I was seventeen years old therefore I was young. It was a summer camp for me. My parents wanted me to study, which I did. I left for Vietnam and yet casting directors always seeked to contact me. Finally, I went to the Actor’s Studio in New York and that is when they called me for The beat that my heart skipped !

 You have an eclectic career, going to comedy (All that glitters) to Sci Fi movies, what pleases you in this diversity ?

It’s a challenge everytime. Curiously, I have been often seen in dramas while I think I’m pretty funny and very physical ! It does saddens me so I try to medicate it. When I was proposed this strong character for The Breitner Commando, I could appease this desire ! But I do not have a career plan, I work mainly by instinct. It’s a human adventure.

 What are your projects ?

The second season for « Mytho » in Arte and I hope for « Faites des gosses » in France 2 who offers me a beautiful character. Other than that, I finished shooting Justin Chon’s new movie « Blue Bayou » with Alicia Vikander. The story : an American-Korean victim of discrimination to whom we ask to come back to her country. I play an American of Vietnamese origin who will help the hero. She has cancer, that’s why I have short hair right now !

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