This 1967 documentary shows you why the Vietnam war ceases to be just a historical battlefield, “over there”, “out in the field” in some foreign and God-forgotten country. Vietnam is not just another Discovery Channel series of 3d maps, commanding English-speaking voices (oooh sooo manly husky voices) trying to spell out difficult names such as DIEN BIEN PHU or the MY LAI massacre. On the other side I can’t really boast of seeing art house European(especially French) movies for lunch either. Celebrated names like Godard are strangers to me. I really don’t know shit about their filmography or their artistic mots d’ordre. Basically i just have seen this documentary if anybody asks and maybe other films without realizing it was them. But here is this mind- and eye- opener. Already in the late 40s European émigré Frankfurt School boys in Hollywood warned us that the American film industry doesn’t dream, that there is no real dreaming done on screen. Their harsh cultural critique was brutally aware of the fact that Hollywood staple fictions are just refusing any alternative, that when they dream they keep on talking about competition, free enterprise, profits, dog eats dog.
Now a bunch of “frenchies” (Godard, Klein, Lelouch, Marker, Resnais and Varda) have managed to pool together their aesthetic, documentaristic and ideological skillz in a commitment of countering the dominant American monopoly about the War in Vietnam at the time. Oke, forget the anti-Vietnam war marches, forget the rallies, forget the many artists and intellectuals genuinely protesting against sending troops and the continuing march of the War Machine (it is fucking was a huge war machine – except for water dams, probably the biggest man-made things afloat at the time were this immense battleships). You can stay and watch not on the side, not from afar, but right from inside the demonstration and look into the eyes of the people that sit on the outside, the white collar blue collar pro-Vietnam war crowd. Well i never actually looked at them this close till now. They seem to be the people who genuinely hated everybody who had something to say against the war! You can look in their faces, see their spite, jeering sarcasm and complete symbiosis with the power-to-be and the military propaganda.
This documentary is also important because it brings in the French end of things and it is not a nice story either. The War in Vietnam was culturally reinvented by the American cinematography that completely washed over the French chapter of colonial Indochine – a history that is much older than the actual US involvement in the region and maybe as bloody. Basically the US stayed on the sides till it was sure that the French will hand over “the conflict”. The Vietnamese struggle starts with the French but ends with the US. Far from Vietnam builds on collectives far apart, on people that never met, it searches for common political gestures and people at home that don’t obey to the enemy(them)/friends(us) propaganda rule. Forgotten and desperate gestures like that of a young anti-militarist US Quaker setting himself on fire in front of the Pentagon cross ideological borders and Cold War political strictures. They are the exceptions that make clear that there is no different territory, no war abroad that can leave us detached, indifferent and untroubled.
Another great scene is a North Vietnamese village, where a sort of comical Communist theater drama is played by a traditional group of dancers-singers making fun of the American generals and their Thunderbirds. The contrast can never be greater – in the most unequal war of all. An US army that came even more fortified and trained and technologically prepared out of WWII (not to say boosted by Nazi scientist collaborators) is confronted by a disturbingly non-modern peasant army, scarcely weaponized and completely underdeveloped (in the eyes of capitalist superiority). It is really the total US blitzkrieg annihilation vs survival in holes in the ground and primitive DIY bunkers. Far from Vietnam is from a different era when you could keep and fit together a resolute Ho Chi Minh, Fidel Castro in natural surroundings, funky demonstrators, flower power peace activists, Black Panther members, angry writers and artists, modern housewives and village guerrilla fighters. The factory strikes at home and the war in the East are very close indeed in a global dynamic that expropriates and exploits at home and abroad.