Diên Biên Phu – Symphonie des Untergangs (1992)

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Diên Biên Phu – Symphonie des Untergangs: Directed by Pierre Schoendoerffer. With Donald Pleasence, Patrick Catalifo, Jean-François Balmer, Ludmila Mikaël. An American reporter finds himself in the middle of the 57-day battle of Dien Bien Phu in Vietnam between the French army and the Vietminh, which finally resulted in the defeat and surrender of the French forces and France’s eventual withdrawal from Vietnam.

“This movie needs some background knowledge of the colonial European history, mainly the french one, to be fully appreciated. The director, Schoendorffer, was an army cameraman sent to Dien Bien Phu, and one of the characters, Howard R. Simpson, was an US correspondent in Indochina and wrote an interesting book: u0026quot;Dien Bien Phu: The Epic Battle America Forgotu0026quot;, worth to read.Schoendorffer was prisoner after the battle and sent to Vietminh concentration camps where he survived after another cameraman from the Red Army meet him.He is the narratoru0026#39;s voice.u003cbr/u003eu003cbr/u003eWhat caught first my attention in this movie is that if you were serving in the army, it puts you right from the beginning in the atmosphere of a regular soldier spending time in maneuver and camp exercises.Guys on the field, some artillery, some air force, and some shouting in the background.Nothing spectacular, absolutely no epic, just like youu0026#39;re back in the military.At a certain point mortars fire is increasing, and shouting escalating, and thatu0026#39;s the start of the battle.And you are in the mud, bleeding bodies and dead around you.Itu0026#39;s just slightly over the level of raw documentary. So itu0026#39;s easy to feel close to the guys on the battlefield.Some Thai volunteers are shown, alongside Vietnamese, African troops, paratroopers, legionnaire, regular infantry, etc.Quite realistic photography and not like u0026quot;in the moviesu0026quot;. The Vietminh artillery made landing impossible, the place was isolated and only parachutist support is possible. Hills all around, itu0026#39;s often cloudy and Vietminh troops keep until the end hidden by their camouflage strategy.Nguyen Giap opted for an intense, moving and steady mortar bombing, backed by supplies and troops supported by China.Instead of a fierce battle were the tactics of the french general could had been superior.u003cbr/u003eu003cbr/u003eBut thatu0026#39;s no the point of the movie. Because, scenes at the ground, depicting the evolution and worsening of the battle, are alternated with the situation as seen from Hanoï. In this part, thereu0026#39;s a reconstitution of the colonial french time, the Vietnamese, the Europeans, the colorful variety of uniforms. A violinist comes to the city for a gala concert.Life keeps going on at the same pace, while in the meantime soldiers are being sacrificed in Dien Bien Phu.A symbolic way to show how the politics were already wanting to leave Indochina, but at the same time they wanted a nice exit, with military bravery and honors, a la legionnaire. The nice violinist lady has a relative who is captain and they meet with other soldiers at a bar where some talks give an insight on the situation and the meaning of the battle, which appears more and more like a strategical non-sense.u003cbr/u003eu003cbr/u003eSoldiers are shown doing their job and thereu0026#39;s nothing theatrical, just few quaint words about military dutyu0026#39;s spirit and a somewhat u0026quot;old schoolu0026quot; sense of bravery.But in the 50u0026#39;s that was still very alive in the french military.So it stays in context. Talks between soldiers are fully understood to people familiar with french army mind and traditions.Otherwise it works like an insight.u003cbr/u003eu003cbr/u003eThe movie is somewhat biased as an ode to Indochina and its people itself, which is a point of view debatable.Ho Chi Minh was, despite being communist, an independents and French were foreign rulers.Yet, that point of view and the kind of relation of Vietnam to french culture is represented by the boss of the local paper in Hanoï.u003cbr/u003eu003cbr/u003eAll in all, an excellent movie, even if not accessible to a non-informed public.”


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