1975 marked a turning point in the history of international relations and tensions in the Middle East.
The fall of Saigon on 30 April 1975, thirteen years after Phnom Penh fell, marks the end of a major 20th century conflict, the Vietnam War. This 10-year long fratricidal struggle among the Vietnamese was a civil war that ripped the nation in two, with North Vietnam supported by the whole of the communist bloc and South Vietnam allied with the US. For the world, it became symbolic of a new stage in the Cold War. For one generation, it became the medium of expression for a rapidly developing counter-culture in which all art forms would be represented.
The US, which had been engulfed in this quagmire since the 1960s, emerged humiliated and divided. The American public was in shock and Hollywood, ever keen to explore its own history, offers a detailed if one-sided account of the events. WOS has decided to revisit the end of the conflict with two films that are milestones in the portrayal of the Vietnam War. Roland Joffé’s The Killing Fields and Oliver Stone’s Heaven and Earth (the final part of his Vietnam War trilogy following Platoon and Born on the Fourth of July) offer nuanced interpretations of the conflict and are concerned with the fate and trauma of the Vietnamese, often overlooked or sidelined in films dealing with the topic.
1975 also marks the beginning of another conflict: the Lebanese Civil War. Like events in Vietnam, the Lebanese conflict was a civil war—between Christians and Muslims—peppered with regular foreign intervention. This long and complex conflict has received the cinematographic scrutiny of Lebanese and international film-makers alike. From 1975 onwards, Beirut, once dubbed the Switzerland of the Middle East, became the epicentre of conflict and the forum for these film-makers’ interpretations.
Farouk Beloufa’s Nahla and Ziad Doueri’s West Beirut focus on the early stages of the conflict and provide a deeper understanding of the issues from the perspective of the real life Beirut at the time. Both films tell the stories of an Algerian reporter and a young Lebanese filmmaker writing during this crucial period, and torn between widespread chaos and a deep desire for political freedom.
Hence, four films, each one offering an opportunity to immerse ourselves in the chaotic and pivotal year of 1975 which these film-makers invite us to understand from an alternative perspective.
NAHLA (1979), Farouk Beloufa - Algeria/France
THE KILLING FIELDS (1985), Roland Joffé - UK
HEAVEN AND EARTH (1993), Oliver Stone - USA/France
WEST BEIRUT (1998), Ziad Doueiri - France/Norway/Lebanon/Belgium