Coming to "From Hollywood to Hanoi" after so much history has been added to the stories of the United States and Vietnam since the end of the war between them, one is struck both by how prescient the film was on its 1992 release as well as how optimistic its filmmaker, Tiana Thi Thanh Nga, was when she made it. On one level, the documentary about a Vietnamese-American woman trying to untangle the twisted strands of her bi-national life is a universal quest for self and homeland. On the other, it's an absolution of America spoken without rancor by the people who were attacked by the greatest military force on earth. One expects that any film about Vietnam -- and certainly one that features Vietnamese people remembering the war -- would automatically be an indictment of the people who waged it (Gen. William Westmoreland, Presidents Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon, Secretary of State Robert McNamara and the special interests whose water they carried). But that doesn't happen. Instead, Tiana -- whose father was press liaison for South Vietnam and remained a staunch Conservative until his death -- draws compassionate, even hopeful statements from the people that the bombs fell on. She is a winning screen interlocutor, a knowledgeable guide, and a dynamic Everywoman who unites rather than divides. I saw the film when it was originally released and found it a compelling character study. Seeing it again after some twenty years -- and after the death of General Vo Nguyen Giap, the architect of North Vietnam's defense strategy -- I am struck by how much has changed and, with regret, how much has not. The tiny nation that America could not conquer by force has instead being conquered by business. It's the people on both sides want to make peace; their governments still haven't come fully around. Maybe they should all see the remarkable "From Hollywood to Hanoi" again.
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