"Choi Voi" ("Adrift") sketches a modern Vietnam where ancestral Confucian values, centred around the family, are increasingly replaced by individualism.

The film shows people caught up in complex games of seduction and knocks down traditional moral markers of the society. Scriptwriter Phan Dang Di says it blurs the boundaries between good and bad while also touching on homosexuality, a subject still largely taboo in Vietnam.

Di has tackled controversial subjects before.

His short film "Khi toi 20" ("When I am 20") was shown in Venice last year but the Vietnamese censor judged it too "crude" and prevented him from attending.

It told the story of a young prostitute who uses her earnings to support her grandmother.

"Choi Voi" was not censored - even though it contains themes which could aggravate the authorities - but four years were needed to convince them to partially finance the production, Di said.

He and the director of "Choi Voi", Bui Thac Chuyen, are among the very few members of Vietnam's film industry to receive international recognition.

In 2006 Chuyen presented a feature film, "Living in Fear", at the Shanghai International Film Festival.

But Vietnamese cinema is still most widely known through its overseas-based directors including Tran Anh Hung, who lives in France. He won the Golden Camera at Cannes in 1993 for "The Scent of Green Papaya," and then received a Golden Lion at Venice two years later with "Cyclo".

The country's cinema was for a long time at the nearly exclusive service of the regime's propagandists and films were made, Chuyen said, "without regard for the interests of audiences".

Things began to change several years ago with the arrival of private-sector funding.

Vietnamese audiences, especially in the big cities, have started to return and cinema has begun to be profitable, Chuyen said.

The industry remains in need of financing but Chuyen said he does not lose hope of seeing his country's cinema follow the model of South Korea, whose films are recognised around the world.

"Twenty years ago South Korean cinema resembled Vietnam's today," Chuyen said.

At the 66th Venice festival, which opened Wednesday, "Choi Voi" will be screened in a category featuring new trends in world cinema.

The film's first festival screening is scheduled for Sunday but Chuyen said later commercial release at home will be a challenge because of the tastes of Vietnamese audiences.

Chuyen and Di both recognise that although audiences are back, they do not necessarily want to watch a film like "Choi Voi".

"People prefer American and South Korean films or commercial films" in general, Di said.

Undeterred, he carries on.

Like last year, Di will not be able to attend the Venice screening. But this time it is because he is preparing to make a new film.

By Aude Genet - Agence France Presse - September 3, 2009