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Film / Hoa-Binh

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Hoa-Binh is a 1970 film from France directed by Raoul Coutard.

It's in the French language but it's set in Vietnam and most of the cast is Vietnamese. Hung is a boy of maybe ten, living with his mom and dad and his toddler sister Xuan in a peasant village. Life gets more difficult for the family when father Tri leaves to join the Viet Cong, The Vietnam War then raging. A problem turns to disaster when Hung and Xuan's mother then falls ill and soon dies from a particularly aggressive cancer.

A well-meaning Red Cross nurse places the children with a cousin, but the cousin refuses to take care of them despite getting money from the Red Cross nurse to do so. With no one to help them the kids go to Saigon. Hung is left begging on the streets and looking for any work he can find as he desperately struggles to take care of himself and little Xuan.

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One of only three films directed by Raoul Coutard, who had a busy career as a cinematographer for Jean-Luc Godard and other directors of the French New Wave.


Tropes:

  • Blatant Lies: Hung's cousin Nam says brusquely that she has no money to take care of Hung and Xuan in addition to her own family and that she can only give them a little rice. That's after the Red Cross nurse and a family friend have both given Nam money to help support the two kids.
  • Conversation Cut: Hung attends a basement Viet Cong meeting where a speaker talks about the eternal march of history and the inevitable triumph of Ho Chi Minh. The film then smoothly cuts to an officer giving a near-identical talk to Hung's father.
  • Diabolus ex Machina: The situation for Hung goes from Disappeared Dad to disaster after his mom, who seems to be in her thirties, dies from a swift-acting cancer.
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  • The Disease That Shall Not Be Named: A doctor at the Red Cross facility says Hung's mom (her name is Cao Thi Thu) is very sick and "I doubt whether she'll recover." Towards the end of the film the nurse says Hung's mom had a "tumor" on her leg. The C word is never mentioned.
  • Earn Your Happy Ending: His father disappears, his mom dies, and Hung and his little sister spend the better part of a year on the streets of Saigon, suffering, trying to avoid starvation. Xuan gets sick. But in the end, Tri comes back into the city on a mission for the VC and looks for his kids. The last scene of the movie shows Hung running and jumping happily into his father's arms, outside the hospital where Xuan is recuperating.
  • The Faceless: The obnoxious American—at least by accent he sounds American, although he's speaking French—who blathers on about Allied determination to outlast the commies, while Hung shines his shoes. The whole group is shown only from the knees down as they take their seats at a cafe. In one camera shot that points up at the American as he pontificates, his face is blocked by a table.
  • Ironic Echo: An arrogant American tells his friends that the Americans and their allies and the South Vietnamese are perfectly willing to wait twenty years if that's how long it takes for the communists to give up. Towards the end of the film when the story catches back up with Tri, a VC officer is telling him that victory is assured, because they're perfectly wiling to wait twenty years if that's how long it takes for the imperialists to give up. (The VC officer was right. The Americans went home in 1973 and North Vietnam completed its conquest of the South in 1975.)
  • La Résistance: The Viet Cong, an irregular guerilla force resisting American power, which sometimes bombs movie theaters and engages in secret basement meetings.
  • Match Cut:
    • An American helicopter lands near Hung's village, and the camera focuses in on a spinning light on the top of the cockpit. The film then cuts to a spinning light on top of an American MP jeep in downtown Saigon, demonstrating how the American presence is everywhere.
    • Hung turns away from the shoeshine boss who has just fired him, and the movie cuts to a different location where he's turning as he holds Xuan under a spigot, giving her a bath.
  • Promotion to Parent: Hung, who looks about ten, is promoted to his little sister's parent after their mother dies.
  • Shoe Shine, Mister?: One of the jobs Hung gets as he struggles to survive in Saigon. He manages to shine an obnoxious American's shoes, but apparently he didn't make enough money, as at the end of the day the shoeshine boss tells him not to come back.
  • Single Tear: Hung's mom has been making the long hike from their village to town even as cancer eats away at her. Finally she can't do it anymore. A single tear rolls down her face as she tells Hung that she's going away to the hospital and she probably isn't coming back.
  • Street Urchin: Hung's life after his mother's death. He is left scrounging for whatever menial labor he can find—shoeshine boy, selling newspapers, hauling fruit—as well as simply begging, as he struggles to keep himself and his little sister alive.
  • Time Skip: "The swallows follow geese in the sky. The year is almost ended." This line from a narrator informs the viewer that Hung and Xuan have been on the streets of Saigon for some time.
  • Translation Convention: Surely the only reason that Vietnamese peasants speak to each other in French.
  • War Is Hell: The brutality of war and how the Vietnamese population suffered. At one point the VC show up in Hung's village, drag a man out of his hut, and shoot him. Then they make all the villagers go out and rip up the road that leads into town. The villagers are still doing this in the early morning when shells from American tanks start falling.
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