79 primaveras (1969) Poster


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Dynamic, Disturbing
kamerad9 April 2002
Taken by itself, "79 Springtimes", by Santiago Alvarez, is a brilliant film. Dynamic and clear in it's intentions, it is a concise biography/eulogy of Ho Chi Minh, the leader of Vietnam, who had recently died. The film paints a different picture of Ho Chi Minh than the one I had been used to seeing. When I was a child, I, always interested in learning what we weren't taught in schools, would spend hours looking through the World Book Encyclopedia, reading whatever I could. I read about the Vietnam War and Ho Chi Minh, and from what was implied, he was a tyrannical dictator who oppressed his people and made them miserable. Seeing 79 Springtimes for the first time a few years ago helped me understand just how much of what I read were lies, although I had already begun to realize that a few years before. Recently however, I've become disturbed, not by the film, but by some issues surrounding it.

The film itself, as I mentioned before, is great. It takes a radical, experimental format, but uses the experimentation in ways that do not confuse us. The first image we see is a time lapse shot of a flower blooming. This dissolves in to a special effects shot of bombs dropping on the Vietnamese countryside. With this we are launched into Ho Chi Minh's life story. In 25 minutes, we learn more about Ho Chi Minh than we could ever learn in any American published history book. Among many events, we see Ho Chi Minh as a young member of the French Communist Party, we see him fighting off the Japanese during World War II, and most hauntingly, we see his funeral, attended by thousands. Aside from the events of Ho Chi Minh's life, we also see events from an/or related to the Vietnam War. We see student protests in the States, footage of battle, and horrifying imagery of Vietnamese being tortured and/or killed by American troops.

Alvarez keeps the film going at a hypnotic pace. There is no voice over, only the occasional title to show us what events in Ho Chi Minh's life we are being shown. The student demonstrations and war footage however, need no explanation. As I mentioned before, the style is experimental. Scenes like the student demonstrations are told primarily through still photographs. Towards the end, when we see battle footage, it is distorted not only visually (the image is made to look as if it is breaking, burning, and flickering), but aurally as well. The sound is an almost deafening collage of gunfire, explosions, and general noise. The music as well is used in a radical fashion. During the footage of Ho Chi Minh's funeral, we hear a brief section of Iron Butterfly's 17-minute song, "Inna Gadda Da Vida." This lends the funeral a surreal quality as we watch people look at Ho Chi Minh's corpse, while a dissonant organ blares on the soundtrack.

Alvarez doesn't use these techniques just to be fancy, however. He wisely believes that films on revolutionary subject matters should themselves' revolutionize the way films are seen and experienced. He doesn't want us to passively sit back and relax as the film plays, but become actively involved in the film. So, the still photos of the students help us see more clearly the contents of the frame. We can concentrate on the students' faces, seeing their anguish, pain, and hope. We can also see better how the police oppress them. Without camera movement, we are not distracted. However, with the war footage, we are meant to be distracted. Alvarez wants us to feel the confusion and chaos of battle, and he is successful in doing so. Likewise, he is successful in making us feel a bizarre sense of confusion during Ho Chi Minh's funeral. Were we to simply see footage of the funeral, with a dry commentary explaining what the people felt, we wouldn't be able to truly feel the confusion and angst they must have felt upon losing their beloved leader. The Iron Butterfly music gives us that feeling of disorientation.

All this helps to make 79 Springtimes not only a successful biography of Ho Chi Minh, but a good historical document of the feverish atmosphere of the time. But there was one thing that was left out of the film that has only recently begun to bother me. I've always known that the V.C. subjected the captured American troops to unspeakable torture. However in more recent years, I came to believe, through more left-wing sources, that Ho Chi Minh was not involved in ordering the tortures; that the V.C. acted independently of Ho Chi Minh's knowledge. A few weeks before re-seeing this film however, I saw a documentary on PBS that interviewed former Vietnam P.O.W's. The documentary itself was blindly patriotic and sentimental, and clearly stated that Ho Chi Minh ordered the tortures. Normally I would have dismissed this as propaganda, but one thing one of the soldiers said disturbed me.

The former soldier said that the tortures were only committed before Ho Chi Minh died. After his death, the treatment of the soldiers got much better. Was it simply a coincidence? Was the man lying? Or did Ho Chi Minh really order these disgusting tortures? Don't get me wrong, I will always feel that the war in Vietnam was not a "just" war. But no one deserves that kind of torture. It's hard to find a source of information that I can fully trust. The American sources say that Ho Chi Minh ordered the tortures, but they also say the war was fought for a good cause. The left wing and Communist sources only seems to focus on the evil deeds of the Americans and never mention the V.C. tortures. How do I find out what really happened? Am I doomed to never really know the full truth? This really bothers me.
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The Art of Editing
Ilpo Hirvonen28 August 2010
79 primaveras (79 Springs) is an experimental film by Cuban Santiago Álvarez about the Vietnam war. The film builds around the dictator of Vietnam, Ho Chi Minh. Alvarez filmed his funeral and equates it with disturbing images, historical documentary, beautiful poetry - slow motion pictures of blooming flowers and dropping bombs. The beauty gets an ironic, shocking twist. The use of music, sound, visuality and writings is disturbing, touching and thought provoking. 79 Springs challenges the viewer to think.

79 Springs could be categorized as a collage film, which for instance Yugoslavian director Dusan Makavejev made. Santiago Alvarez is without a doubt the master of collage cinema, he understands the power of memory and also the power of editing. A lot of things happen at the editing room. The art of editing can very often be seen in documentary films; many of us who watch older documentaries, remember Dziga Vertov's The Man With a Movie Camera. The editing in it is beautiful and enchanting, in 79 Springs the editing is brilliant, but not beautiful or enchanting. It is very disturbing, shocking, fast and amazing. To me the editing was especially the greatest thing in this film, combined with unusual music, sounds and poetic writings.

The sadness of the history of cinema, is of course the realization; how powerless films are. Jean Renoir couldn't stop the WWII and 79 Springs didn't change much, it was over looked and banned. But this doesn't make the film lesser at all, it's just something the film reminds you of. 79 Springs is very thought provoking on many levels, it's beautiful in a way, but also very horrifying. The greatest collage film you will see, one of the greatest documentaries you will see, one of the most disturbing entirety you will see and perhaps the finest editing you will see. 79 Springs is truly great cinema poetry.
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Protest at 24 frames-a-second
Warning: Spoilers
The start of 79 springtimes is one of the most devastating pieces of editing I've ever seen, there's a match cut from a flower opening to a couple of bombs falling. The fins at the end of the bombs looks exactly like a flower, pretty much like a pimpernel from the angle the camera shows it, the bombs have been released with fins in what is called the "retarded" position in a Greek cross shape. For a few seconds I really did think I was seeing time lapse photography of some flowers, but in actuality it was a slowmo of weapons of devastation against a blurred background.

The conceit of the movie is to present a chronology with a basis of the lifespan of Ho Chi Minh. The dates of the establishment of particular Asian sub-cliques of the international Communist party are shown with references such as 32 springs.

Ho Chi Minh is shown as the will of the Vietnamese personified, he fights off the Japanese fascists, French colonialists, and finally the American imperialists. This is the perspective of history you will never see elsewhere, it is a celluloid protest. I was not alive at the time and I will never know the truth of these wars. What I do know is that this film 79 primaveras, is a film of pure belief.

We are shown newsreel footage of the time, of conflict, that is flying across the screen as if the celluloid is shrieking, spooling off the reels, flailing and damaged. It's a scream of anguish.

We are shown still photos of hopelessly war-mutilated children, it shames me to the core that I did not weep at the sight. There is another film where a man shamelessly says, "I love the smell of napalm in the morning". Here we are made truly aware of what it means to drop hot napalm on a village of living, breathing humans, seconds away from ultimate agonies.

There were once other ways of life, and this is a fragment from that lost tapestry. My belief is that all leaders of men are at best little more than brigands. I hope fervently to be disproved of that opinion one day. This film remains valuable however whatever views you have on Ho Chi Minh. For myself I don't know what to believe.
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Amazing short by Santiago Alvarez
cajones8726 October 2009
Insight into the REAL goings on... Thank god we have this film to educate, inform and highlight on the vicious, disturbing and sickening attacks of American troops on innocent cultures... Please don't be sucked into all things American! Their history is so biased and you will never know the truth unless you are educated into knowing... I am a Film Studies student working on Alvarez' short films and I am so impressed. Yes, they are radical and experimental, I enjoy the interaction and sheer intensity of his work. Ho Chi Minh was clearly a good, influential man. It is a shame that his films are not shown widely throughout the West in big mass dominated cinemas such as the Odeon! We are bombarded with American culture 24/7! We need a change!
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Cold War propaganda piece
Warning: Spoilers
"79 primaveras" or "79 Springs" is a Cuban 25-minute movie that includes Spanish and Vietnamese language, so you will probably need subtitles if you decide to watch it, even if it is just text messages and there is no narration in here. It is an award-winning (not only Leipzig this time) black-and-white film from 1969, so it will soon have its 50th anniversary.The writer and director is Santiago Álvarez and this one here is among his most known works. I still would not say that it is his best. From what I have seen the best is clearly "Now", maybe also his most famous from 4 years before this one. I did not really enjoy the watch here. I can see the film's political relevance as it is a prime example of propaganda from the 1960s, the years of the Cold War, but beyond that I felt that it has very little too offer. There is no plot, the scenes all feel very random and we also don't really learn anything new here about the Cold War. That's why I give it a thumbs-down. Not recommended.
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