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By Phil Hall | December 16, 2013

During the 1960s, Hollywood mostly ignored the Vietnam War; John Wayne’s gung-ho romp “The Green Berets” was the rare production that acknowledged a military conflict was taking place in Indochina. Over in France, however, a group of prominent directors gathered together to create a film essay declaring their opposition to American military presence in Vietnam.

The 1967 omnibus “Far From Vietnam” was initiated by Chris Marker and included the input of Jean-Luc Godard, Jors Ivens, William Klein, Claude Lelouch, Alain Resnais and Agnes Varda. (Strangely, Varda’s participation is omitted in the press notes for this new DVD release.) The resulting work, however, seemed to affirm the old maxim about a broth being spoiled by too many cooks.

The basic problem with “Far From Vietnam” is presenting the Vietnam War as a bland case of good-versus-evil. The Americans are seen as the arrogant, reckless imperialists that are using Vietnam as evidence of their ability to squelch Communist uprisings; the film suggests the American failure to overthrow Castro’s government in Cuba fueled the American mania to destroy the North Vietnamese. American values are portrayed as tacky and brutish: a pro-military parade on New York’s Fifth Avenue and a pro-war crowd chanting “Bomb Hanoi” are meant to symbolize the entire nation’s attitude. In comparison, the film marvels at the “calm” nature of the Hanoi citizenry as they go about building concrete bomb shelters for protection against American bombing missions. The fact that the people in South Vietnam weren’t eager to live under Ho Chi Minh and his Communist goon squads somehow never gets mentioned.

One can tolerate left-wing propaganda if it is presented with intelligence and good taste. But when the film presents actor Bernard Frisson pretending to be writer Claude Ridder delivering a rambling monologue on war (with a pouting, silent yet sexy babe as his audience) and folk singer Tom Paxton doing an anti-war song, “Far From Vietnam” becomes shrill and juvenile. Even worse, none of the French talent involved seemed to recall that the Vietnam conflict had its roots in the French military occupation of Indochina. Obviously, there was more than a little amnesia on the road from Dien Bien Phu to the Cannes screening rooms.

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  1. Howard says:

    What a stupid conclusion. The American Indochina Wars last 25 years and it was always an American project regardless of which uniform the troops were wearing. De Gualle could do nothing in Indochina without Truman’s greenlight and US provisions.

  2. Tram Ngo says:

    Here’s the thing: During the Geneva Convention, Communists Ho Chi Minh and Le Duan did not agree to split Vietnam permanently at the 17th parallel.

    The whole “let’s have elections” thing was a half-hearted resolution since the Vietnam populace has never seen elections before, and never really wanted to, at that point.

    South Vietnam had its own economic culture in the late ’50s – a market economy – that was different from North Vietnam. The South Vietnamese had their own thing going. South Vietnamese President Ngo Dinh Diem had his faults (he was an autocrat), but calling him a U.S. puppet is inaccurate and dishonest. Diem was a nationalist with legitimate credibility, and Ho Chi Minh, even tried to recruit him in Viet Minh in the late ’40s at one point.

    The US still pressures Vietnam to make human rights reforms. But that usually goes on deaf ears. So don’t start your mindless rant, hiuhiuh.

    My parents are from South Vietnam, and so are my workplace clients. I know the stories they tell. They’re diverse in ideology, but they tell me the same thing about their reluctance of falling under the North’s control.

  3. hiuhiuh says:

    I guess the hundreds of thousands of “South” Vietnamese who took up arms against the US military dictatorship decades before the “North” Vietnamese army units got involved were a figment of everyone’s imagination. The US and its puppets fought ghosts in their head. And the millions of people JFK rounded up into camps were put there for their own protection. And the chemical and biological weapons were crop dusting exercises.

    There wouldn’t be people from the old regime fleeing from the new rulers if colonial powers didn’t create the old regime in the first place. And that’s the barbarism that imperialism’s pepsi or coke duality imposes on people. Funny how the US opposition to Vietnam’s “communism” disappeared the moment the country opened up to US capital. It’s almost as if “they fought against the Communists” has no relation to the reality to what happened in Indochina after WWII.

    Apparently like the reviewer of this movie you make apologies for murder. Deflecting attention from the crimes presented right in front of you by pointing at malevolent actors that your side has long worked and collaborated with. No amount of books can hide that reality.

  4. Tran Hai says:

    No the people of South Vietnam did not fight against US “military dictatorship”. They fought against the Communists who to this date lie to, cheat, and oppress their own people.

    The proof? Look at the boat people who risked their lives at seas trying to get to freedom after the Communists took over Vietnam in 1975.

    Hiuhiuh: apparently you know nothing about Vietnam. Do some reading before you talk or write!

  5. hiuhiuh says:

    “The fact that the people in South Vietnam weren’t eager to live under Ho Chi Minh and his Communist goon squads somehow never gets mentioned.”

    You are aware that “the people in South Vietnam” had been fighting against the American military dictatorship for almost seven years before Kennedy sent in the Green Berets and set up the relocation camps for the population? With tens of thousands killed by the end of the fifties? NVA units only began arriving in the South 10 years after the [last phase of the] war began. Not only does showing people being “calm” while being carpet bombed by invaders offend you but you have the gall to justify the invasion of the South as a humanitarian defense against “communism.” Funny the US doesn’t seem very concerned about “communism” in Vietnam today now that it has opened up to their capital.

    And of course “Bomb Hanoi” symbolized the entire nation’s attitude. This came out in 1967 (!) and was probably filmed during the preceding year. There wasn’t significant mass opposition to the war until 1968.

    Clearly this movies protest fell on deaf ears.

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