Academic journal article Film & History

Regret to Inform (1998)

Academic journal article Film & History

Regret to Inform (1998)

Article excerpt


Barbara Sonneborn, director

A common complaint about filmic representations of the Vietnam war, particularly those produced in Hollywood, is that the films tend to focus too narrowly on the personal relationships of the characters involved, ignoring not only the political context of the war but also the viewpoint of its Vietnamese participants. This trend is perhaps epitomized in Hal Ashby's Coming Home (1978), where the particulars of the Vietnam War are largely overlooked and the conflict is presented as little more than a plot device that sets the film's romance and melodrama into motion. In short, Hollywood's emphasis on personal struggles and triumphs acts to obscure the politics of the war and

the larger power structures that lie behind the military actions.

The task of situating the Vietnam War within its geo-political context has traditionally fallen to documentary or non-fiction films, most notably Emile de Antonio's In the Year of the Pig (1968) and Peter Davis's Hearts and Minds (1974), two of the three feature length films produced about the war while it was taking place. More recently, Errol Morris's chilling Fog of War (2003) has taken this approach.

Nominated for Best Documentary Feature at the Academy Awards and winner of numerous honors on the film festival circuit, Regret to Inform (1998) bridges the gap between these two cinematic trends. The film, which follows writer-director Barbara Sonneborn's pilgrimage to the site where her husband died in Vietnam, examines the Vietnam War and its effects through the eyes of the women whose husbands did not have the good fortune of coming home. As Sonneborn approaches her destination, the tales of other war widows are interwoven with her own journey.

Particularly moving is the story of her traveling companion and translator, Nguyen Ngoc Xuan, whose harrowing youthful turn to prostitution as a means to escape the violence and danger of the war casts the disturbingly blunt brothel scene of Hearts and Minds in a new, even harsher light. Here, the prostitutes of Davis's film, who serve as little more than metaphors for the exploitation of Vietnam, are given a background of familial tragedy and bloodshed. …

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