Cast: Anne Bellec, Karen Blanguernon, Bernard Fresson
Directors: Jean-Luc Godard, William Klein, Agnès Varda, Alain Resnais, Joris Ivens, Claude Lelouch, Chris Marker
Genre: Documentary | Drama | War
Editor’s Notes: The following review is part of our coverage for TIFF’s Godard Forever: Part One which runs from January 23rd to Feburary 13th at TIFF Bell Lightbox. For more information on upcoming TIFF film series visit http://tiff.net and follow TIFF on Twitter at @TIFF_NET.
Far from Vietnam is a dizzying cinematic pastiche directed by Joris Ivens, William Klein, Claude Lelouch, Agnès Varda, Jean-Luc Godard, Chris Marker and Alain Resnais that encapsulates the idealistic fervor surrounding the war in Vietnam like a manic television viewer flipping through channels in search of meaning in the insanity as the world seems to crumble under the weight of its irreconcilable ideals. Images of American soldiers are contrasted with images of the Vietnamese, the Americans loading bombs that will be delivered to regions that they have no desire to understand while the Vietnamese disarm these bombs and use the shrapnel delivered by a faceless force as powerful as the uncaring hand of god to create shelters to protect themselves against future attacks. They are alien to one another in every conceivable way but their fates have been irrevocably bound by decisions made by people they will never meet. It is a conflict that the “propaganda of statistics” would falsely indicate as an easy victory for the vastly superior forces of the American military, but the unconquerable nature of the human condition would not allow for capitulation as the basest instinct of survival is indifferent to social conditions.
Jean-Luc Godard attempts to come to terms with his own role in this conflict that rages on a world away from the privileged comforts of a filmmaker [...] He feels as disconnected from the working classes of his own country as he does from the average Vietnamese citizen, but his heart still bleeds for the plight of both.
Far from the struggles of Vietnam, intellectuals would attempt to reconcile the insanity of conflict and try to navigate the convoluted political labyrinth that led to this particular conflict, but war is an eternally burning fire that occasionally intensifies and necessitates the intervention of firefighters that lay waiting for the next conflagration to consume an area. Protesters and counter-protesters shout across the relative safety of streets far removed from the conflict, seizing the opportunity to become performance artists for their own misguided internal ideologies, but they shout not for the people that are oppressed and murdered but for their own personal glorification. The generals and politicians would sell commoditized notions of freedom and democracy, but the only purchasers of their wares are already ideologically aligned with these salesmen and hucksters that use their positions of power to make nationalistic sales pitches for the inherent rightness of their cause.
This was the world’s first televised war, but even the indifferent eye of the camera can lie through omission to fuel the self-gratification and philosophical beliefs of the person behind it. Jean-Luc Godard attempts to come to terms with his own role in this conflict that rages on a world away from the privileged comforts of a filmmaker. The North Vietnamese had rejected his prior request to bring his camera to their lands, but he understands this rejection and that any attempts he would make to capture these tumultuous world events objectively would ultimately fail as pointing his camera at a burned woman or decimated village would fail to incite the hearts of anyone not already receptive to his ideologies and instead serve as a means of self-glorification. He feels as disconnected from the working classes of his own country as he does from the average Vietnamese citizen, but his heart still bleeds for the plight of both. He instead chooses to use his platform to tap into what he deems “the cry”, a feeling of connection to the oppressed people of the world that carries no useful purpose but is important just the same as it drives the hearts of the conscientious to look inward and see their own hopeless ineffectualness.
Televised speeches of American generals are subjected to the same distortion as the comfortable lies they deliver. Images lose coherence as the self-serving attempt to justify the unjustifiable with platitudes on the abstract notion of democratic freedom and how it is too dangerous to allow peoples of the world to find this freedom on their own terms. Anything that doesn’t fit neatly into their limited view is seen as dangerous and subversive, and the might of the god-fearing, clean-cut capitalists of the world would eventually overcome the hapless and confused opposers of their limited definitions of freedom. Vietnam would serve as both an abstract catalyst and rallying cry for a multitude of angered souls seeking retribution for their own social injustices as parades of people would march in relative safety, worlds away from the conflict that had been distorted through the viewpoints of everyone that would try to use it as a tool for their own causes. The world would seem less innocent as television and film made it possible to broadcast these opposing views, but this idealogical conflict was always burning beneath the surface; it only became more visible with these tools.
Far from Vietnam is as elusive as it is illuminating, blasting the viewer with unblinking images from the entire world as both audience and filmmakers share in the confusion, attempting to find meaning in the meaningless and ultimately come no closer to comfortable answers as the film rampages forward to its final frame.
Far from Vietnam is as elusive as it is illuminating, blasting the viewer with unblinking images from the entire world as both audience and filmmakers share in the confusion, attempting to find meaning in the meaningless and ultimately come no closer to comfortable answers as the film rampages forward to its final frame. Those under the hand of oppression lack the means to rationalize the convoluted reasons behind their oppression, and oppressors lack the means to understand that which is different than themselves. Ultimately, we are all “far from Vietnam” and there is no sense to be made from the chaos and social injustices perpetuated throughout the world, so the conscientious are left with no choice but to weep for the atrocities of the world or destroy themselves through self-immolation in the hopes that others may join in “the cry”. Perhaps if we all become capable of weeping for the plight of those different than ourselves, humanity can move one step closer to making peace with its multifaceted nature and attempt to find a commonality that will allow it to stop attempting to destroy itself. I’m not holding my breath.
[notification type="star"]92/100 ~ AMAZING. Far from Vietnam is as elusive as it is illuminating, blasting the viewer with unblinking images from the entire world as both audience and filmmakers share in the confusion, attempting to find meaning in the meaningless and ultimately come no closer to comfortable answers as the film rampages forward to its final frame.[/notification]