THE CRITIC RESPONDS

"I am by no means suggesting that the history depicted by the movie didnt happen..."

As Pauline Kael noted when writing about the Holocaust documentary Shoah, "the subject of a movie should not place it beyond criticism." This same reasoning, I would propose, can be applied to any movie from any period in history, whether it happens to depict the genocide in Rwanda or, yes, the flight of Vietnamese "boat people" from their home country after the fall of Saigon. In my review of Journey From the Fall, I am by no means suggesting that the history depicted by the movie didn't happen, but rather that matters were not nearly as black-and-white as Mr. Tran makes them seem. For decades, movies about the Second World War told us that the Nazis and Japanese were villains and the Allied Forces were heroes, but just in the last six months, two remarkable films, Clint Eastwood's Letters From Iwo Jima and Paul Verhoeven's Black Book, have shown the futility of such thinking. These are movies in which there are no such distinctions as good and evil—just the murky fog of war. But given a similarly rich opportunity in making a film about Vietnam from the Vietnamese point of view, Mr. Tran instead employs a reductive form of propaganda that sees all "boat people" as saints and all Communists as sinners—an approach, I fear, that does precious little to better our understanding of this still-resonant conflict.

 
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