Movie review of "Thao’s Library”: Elizabeth Van Meter’s touching documentary concerns the friendship between the filmmaker and a young Vietnamese woman who has overcome birth defects to build a library for children in her village. Rating: 3 stars out of 4.
Destiny doesn’t always reveal its inner workings right away.
That’s the message of “Thao’s Library,” a touching documentary about two individuals from different corners of the world finding a common cause and a chance to heal from life’s crueler blows.
Actress and filmmaker Elizabeth Van Meter lost her younger sister Vicki — who made headlines in the 1990s as a preteen pilot flying long distances — when Vicki committed suicide in 2008.
Movie Review ★★★
‘Thao’s Library,’ a documentary written and directed by Elizabeth Van Meter. 90 minutes. Not rated; suitable for general audiences. Partially in Vietnamese, with English subtitles. Alderwood Mall 16.
Grief-stricken, Van Meter paid a visit to a photojournalist friend who showed her recent images he’d taken in Vietnam of Thanh Thao Huynh. Known as Thao, the young woman lives with profound birth defects as a result of the Vietnam War-era chemical defoliant Agent Orange.
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Thao found a purpose in life by converting a small part of a fertilizer shed into a library for village children. She wishes only for a few hundred dollars to expand her mission.
Something about Thao’s story grips Van Meter, who soon films herself in Vietnam bonding with Thao in a sisterly fashion.
The concrete legacy of their relationship becomes Van Meter’s successful effort to raise funds for a bigger, shinier library. But “Thao’s Library” is really much more about gaining perspective on one mystery — Vicki’s lonely suicide — by observing the truths behind another, i.e., why Thao’s family remains fiercely loyal to her and her uphill battle for self-worth.
“Thao’s Library” ends with several children performing, sans dialogue, a little play about the story of Thao and Van Meter’s friendship. It’s as if something both good and wholly unexpected has passed into legend. Deservedly so.