Last Days in Vietnam Screen 6 articles

Last Days in Vietnam


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  • As storytelling, its depiction of the airlift, relying heavily on 16mm footage shot in 1975 and structured hour-by-hour, is quite gripping. Kennedy’s montage of archival footage and present-day interviews... is judicious. However, the film, produced by PBS’s American Experience series, does feel like a TV program, never venturing beyond documentary conventions—its most outré touches are computer-animated maps of Saigon.

  • It's easy to see how a more willfully postmodern documentarian like Errol Morris or Agnès Varda could perhaps replay the images to the interviewees to jog their memories and unearth long-buried details, but for Kennedy it seems to suffice as mere illustration. In other words, the film gives more gravity to its (predominantly white, American) talking heads than to the sea of distraught Vietnamese faces on screen—even if their betrayal is the supposed grease for the film's indignation.

  • Standard talking-head interviews are accompanied by extensive, often stunning archival footage, so deftly assembled by Kennedy and editor Don Kleszy that there’s barely a word spoken that doesn’t have a corresponding memorable image. It’s not a documentary that reinvents the form or will alter anyone’s perception of the war, but sometimes a rich, exhaustive chronicle is more than enough.

  • Basically the story of one crazy day, April 29 1975 - gripping in itself, probably more than that for American viewers since it grants a glimmer of last-minute redemption in a bleak chapter in the nation's history, a day when (barring the occasional "horrendous screw-up," to quote Henry Kissinger) everyone behaved honourably. Or at least everyone willing to talk to the TV cameras behaved honourably.

  • Just as the Vietnam War began—in dribs and drabs, unofficially and by proxy—so it seemed to drag on, well past any kind of definitive end. “A masterpiece of ambiguity,” CIA agent Frank Snepp calls the 1973 Paris Peace Accords in the riveting documentary Last Days in Vietnam, in a few words dismissing the high-minded goals of diplomacy with a survivor’s on-the-ground recall. (Henry Kissinger, too, has evasive thoughts to offer in this remarkably thorough account.)

  • Riveting, wrenching and extraordinarily important, Rory Kennedy’s superb documentary “Last Days in Vietnam” is effectively two films at once. One takes place nearly 40 years ago and tells the incredibly dramatic story of Americans’ frantic, chaotic evacuation of South Vietnam as Communist forces closed in on Saigon. The other film is that same story refracted through our awareness of the potential parallels between yesterday’s debacle and similar U.S. withdrawals from Iraq and Afghanistan today.

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