Foreign Films

While the Vietnamese government put much effort in reforming the country, particularly the economy and the governmental structure, at the beginning of the twentieth century, the foreign film industry took a great interest in producing film about Vietnam. Many foreign directors had an opportunity to visit Vietnam in 1991 due the foreign policy that passed at the beginning of the year, especially French director. Under French colonialism, the French saw this as an opportunity to re-visit Vietnam, a country once was under controlled. This re-collection of memory of a great imperial life ideology is well-explained and examined by historian Panivong Norindr. His book, Phantasmatic Indochina: French Ideology in Architecture, Film, and Literature, laid the foundation for studying the collective memory of the Vietnam War in Western culture, that Vietnam became a part of a recreational Western fantasy and imaginary.

The work of Panivong Norindr’s Phantasmatic Indochina: French Colonial Ideology in Architecture, Film, and Literature, partially helps for my research. His central government is that Indochina became part of a recreational French fantasy and imaginary, which also created a faux identity for Indochina. He also claims that Indochina has becomes a collection of exaggerated fiction, a collective imaginary that French had desired to relive their experiences of a great colonial life.[1] Norindr’s primary sources suggested that they produced a coherent textual narrative on French Indochina to portray a fantasy.[2] The charm and the exotic nature of Indochina had fed many French imperialist writers and artists to the region and creating compelling portrait of the colonial ideal. This secondary source, along with M. Kathryn Edwards’ Contesting Indochina: French Remembrance between Decolonization and Cold War, provide evidences that the film Indochine is a product of French collective memories of Indochina. There are some scenes that display stereotypes about Vietnamese women, particularly images of “congai”.[3] In film, the use of sexuality of a woman is common but the term indicates to a specific imagery about Vietnamese women. The portrayal of Vietnamese women is also affected by the popular narrative of postcolonial ideology.

The historiography of French colonialism and imperialism have focused on politics and economic reasons that were used by the French Republic in order to encourage their territorial expansion. Generally, when writing about French colonial history, historians have paid their attention on Haiti (1659-1804) and Algeria (1830-1962) to understand the relationship between the colonist and the colonized people. Additionally, after World War II, the study of Imperialism has shifted its focus to the study of decolonization. This paradigm shift may also be a result of a series of worldwide conflicts between 1900 and 1945. Historical research began to lean toward the victims of colonization rather than focusing on the perpetrators. Nonetheless, there is only a small amount of research on the French in Indochina, which explains a fragmentation in French Imperialism studies. Furthermore, few scholars have argued that the First Indochina War (1945 – 1954) has become the forgotten war.[4] Two of the main reasons were because it was faraway and overshadowed by other wars, such as World War II (1939 – 1945), Algerian War (1954 – 1962), and the Vietnam War (1955 – 1975).

Indochine (1992)

The Lover (1992)

The Scent of Green Papaya (1993)

[1] M. Kathryn Edwards, Contesting Indochina: French Remembrance Between Decolonization and Cold War (Oakland: University of California Press, 2016), 1.

[2] Panivong Norindr, Phantasmatic Indochina: French Colonial Ideology in Architecture, Film and Literature (London: Duke University Press, 1996), 1-2.

Norindr’s primary sources are included cartographic surveys and maps, ethnographic accounts, geological studies, journalistic repots, travel accounts, private letters, official reports, tourist guides, iconographic representations, personal memoirs, and financial reports.

[3] “Congaï” in Vietnamese language means a young girl, but in this context – and also because of the French had used this term to define a Vietnamese mistress.

[4] Norindr, Phantasmatic Indochina, 1.