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Date: 11 February, 2004
'Since the war Vietnam has experienced
an extraordinarily high level of birth abnormalities, and
not only in the children - and now the grandchildren - of
Battle's Poison Cloud, Lost in Translation,
Cold Mountain, Girl with a Pearl Earring and Kitchen Stories. Battle's
Poison Cloud review by Malcolm Lewis, courtesy of New Internationalist
magazine. Other reviews by Catherine von Ruhland.
Directed by Cecile Trijssenaar
During their 'American War', the Vietcong, although poorly equipped,
were able to control large areas of South Vietnam using the cover
of the jungle. The US military, with its massively superior firepower,
could never find, and so could not destroy, their enemy.
The American solution was horribly simple - destroy
the jungle that hid the guerrillas. And so they dropped 70 million
tons of the dioxin-based Agent Orange (named after the colour of
the label on the chemical drums). The US stripped around 15 per
cent of the South of vegetation.
It didn't work and the defeated Americans abandoned
the country. They left behind a deadly legacy - dioxin is 100,000
times more toxic than any natural poison. Since the war Vietnam
has experienced an extraordinarily high level of birth abnormalities,
and not only in the children - and now the grandchildren - of war
Trijssenaar's film documents the evidence, interviewing Vietcong
and American veterans, Vietnamese, American and Canadian scientists
and academics, and shows the terrible effects of dioxin poisoning.
The fear is that dioxin damages DNA, but not
only veterans are affected. An independent Canadian survey discovered
dioxin 'hot-spots' in and around one-time American bases and supply
depots. Bien Hoa City Lake has the world's most poisoned water -
yet people still eat the lake's vegetation, fish and ducks.
Three million died in the war and Professor Le
Cao Dai, ex-Director of the Red Cross Agent Orange Fund, believes
the chemical aftermath has affected over a million Vietnamese. The
US Government accepts responsibility for its own poisoned war veterans,
but none for its pollution of Vietnam.
The Vietnamese Government wants a clean up yet tries to suppress
the story, fearful of its effect on the export of rice and fish.
Trijssenaar filmed secretly and smuggled the tapes out of Vietnam.
Her lucidly argued film gives a voice to Vietnam's victims of military
To purchase a copy of the film, visit http://www.tambutifilms.co.uk/video.htm
Lost in Translation
Ceritifcate 15, directed by Sofia Coppola,
starring Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson - on general release
To Western eyes, Tokyo seems a universe away. It's not just the
obvious language barrier. Its perceived 'otherness' of culture and
race enables Hollywood stars to kid themselves that they're in another
world and so sell their image to the highest bidder for local consumption
while hoping that America will never know.
Washed-up actor Bob Harris (a world-weary Bill Murray) is in town
promoting whisky. His picture posted sky high on a roadside billboard
emphasises the out-of-body experience he's currently having. He's
bored and alone, and even his modern hotel suite is out of kilter
with his large frame to hilarious effect. The fax machine spewing
out distant wife Lydia's shelving unit suggestions at 4.20am hints
at the impasse his marriage has reached.
Little wonder then that he's drawn to fellow compatriot Charlotte
(Scarlett Johansson), similarly wandering the corridors while her
photographer husband is away on shoots. Bob recognises the ennui
in her eyes but there's a spark between them too even though he's
twice her age with over two decades of marriage under his belt.
Together they try to make sense of their surroundings. And it is
here that the film has been criticised for its flippant regard of
the Japanese. Confusion over the pronunciation of 'r's and 'l's
and jibes about height are cheap shots. It is more Bill Murray's
slapstick falling about that brings out the laughs, and his manic
TV presenter is no more wired than our own Graham Norton.
The odd couple's tentative love is marked by what does not take
place (though the cinematic atmosphere is spoilt by Coppola having
Harris have a meaningless fling with someone else). And Charlotte
appears more like Mena Suvari in American Beauty, reawakening an
older, jaundiced man to life's possibilities.
Certificate 15, directed by Anthony
Mingella, starring Jude Law, Nicole Kidman and Renee Zellweger -
on general release
Cold Mountain is undoubtedly one of the best films of 2004. It is
gripping, emotionally wrought, beautifully shot and well cast.
Jude Law's determined, battle-scarred Inman turns his back on the
American Civil War to traipse the long way home to Aida (Nicole
Kidman) the woman he loves but barely knows. Meanwhile, she, and
the local women left behind, including Renee Zellweger's gutsy Ruby,
are dealing with troubles of their own.
What makes Cold Mountain special is that its spiritual themes of
journeying and perseverance, delayed hope, destiny, sacrifice and
celebration read like a parable for our times too.
Girl With A Pearl Earring
Certificate 12A, directed by Peter
Webber, starring Colin Firth and Scarlett Johansson -
on general release
This film is also based on a best-selling novel, is gorgeous to
look but has little to say. It only hints at a dark truth about
masters and servant girls.
The impoverished Griet (Scarlett Johansson, again) finds work at
the Vermeer household (the artist is played by a brooding Colin
Firth). From cleaning the great artist's studio, she moves to mixing
his paints, to eventually being the subject of a portrait.
Peter Webber's film certainly invites viewers
to seek out Vermeer's work. But be concerned that this fiction could
well become the 'truth'. The real-life subject of the portrait is
believed to have been one of Vermeer's daughters.
Certificate PG - at selected cinemas
Kitchen Stories is a small, warm-hearted Scandinavian film similarly
set in the domestic sphere that is worth searching out at local
Here, it is single men who literally come under
scrutiny as the subject of a 1950s Norwegian Good Housekeeping/Mass
Observation-style research project to identify their movements and
so produce the perfect kitchen and household appliances. Surveyors
are despatched to observe but not interact.
But being human, imposed barriers soon come down
and relationships amusingly and movingly strike up. The gentle rhythm
here masks a deep compassion for the minutiae of human interaction,
whether within one room or across time and space.
To find out which cinemas are showing
these films on general and limited release, visit the Guardian Film
website where you can search for a film by its title or, by using
their postcode search, find the cinemas near you showing them