The historic neighbourhood of Pomelo in Hanoi, a vibrant maze of homes and businesses teeming with life, is being demolished to make way for a highway project. Numerous private contractors knock buildings down while surrounding structures are still occupied, and multiple parties quickly swoop in to reclaim valuable metal components for resale. This isn’t typical urban development — the destruction feels visceral, in-your-face, and chaotic.
Yet rubble has never looked more soulful, and filmmakers Phuong Thao Tran and Swann Dubus’s film captures the beauty that perseveres even as the neighborhood disappears. The film is atmospheric, observational, and immersive, but strong characters emerge — the students at the local hairdressing school, a group of women scavengers who risk their lives daily, and Huy and Quyen, two workers who navigate between an exploitative boss, criminal street gangs, and less-thanskilled labourers.
Tran has a personal connection to the location, as her parents owned a home in Pomelo. This relationship makes the film feel urgent, authentic, and ultimately tragic. Residents with strong roots and history are being displaced, and the migrant labourers doing the work are poorly compensated. Pomelo is a film both contemplative and raucous, and as historic neighbourhoods across Asia and the world are levelled for new developments, it provides a vital perspective on gentrification around the globe. -KR