New film on My Lai massacre tells redemption story

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The My Lai massacre, one of the horrific war crimes perpetrated during the Vietnam War by US soldiers, is at the center of a film on redemption and moving ahead produced by UNESCO.

Shooting for the Nhung la thu tu Son My (Letters from Son My) film began last week in the central province of Quang Ngai's Son My Village.

Made by UNESCO Center for Cinema - Multimedia Vietnam, the film follows the journey of former US lieutenant Peter Cage (played by Frenchman Saub Gérald) returning to the Son My Village in which the My Lai Hamlet is located.

During his return visit to Vietnam, the veteran regularly writes letters to his wife in the US telling her about people he meets, the misery of My Lai residents after the massacre, as well as his own feelings and impressions.

The role of Cage is based on the real-life character of William Calley, the only US army officer prosecuted for the massacre that took place in My Lai in Vietnam in 1968, said Le Dan, the film's director.

He got the idea for making the film when Calley made a public apology in August 2009 after 40 years of silence.

"There is not a day that goes by that I do not feel remorse for what happened that day in My Lai," former lieutenant Calley told members of the Kiwanis Club of Greater Columbus, Georgia. "I feel remorse for the Vietnamese who were killed, for their families, for the American soldiers involved and their families. I am very sorry."

It is estimated that more than 500 unarmed civilians, including old men, women and children, were gunned down in cold blood that day, and it was only the act of another brave soldier who landed a helicopter between the soldiers and the villagers that prevented the atrocity from exacting a greater toll.

Subsequent revelations have shown the My Lai massacre was not an isolated incident, but became famous after it was exposed by an American journalist.

In person

"I thought it would have been much better if Calley arrives in Vietnam in person to apologize to the people of Son My, and this prompted me to make the film,"said Le Dan.

In the film, Cage sits next to a woman named Hanh (played by Giang My) on the trip from Ho Chi Minh City to Son My Village. They talk and Cage learns that Hanh is from Son My.

He does not dare to admit that he ordered soldiers to open fire on civilians during a "search and destroy" mission in My Lai and neighboring villages in 1968. He only tells her that he is coming to Son My as he was a member of the US troops involved in the massacre and wants to apologize.

Hanh smiles and says: "It is more than 40 years, the pain still exists but can hatred change anything? We should think about the future and do significant things."

At Son My, Cage gets a deeper understanding of the pain suffered by locals and their spirit of forgiveness.

After receiving Cage's letters, his wife Mary (played by Melissa Ilene Wolslegel) comes to Son My to attend a commemoration of the My Lai massacre's victims.

Le Dan said he hoped the film would help prevent another "My Lai massacre" elsewhere in the world.

The director said he was happy to find Saub Gérald, a Frenchman living in Vietnam, to play the main character.

The 120-minute film, made with some VND8 billion ($433,000), is scheduled to be completed in May and sent to the Cannes Film Festival 2010 before being screened in Vietnam.

The 82-year-old director, famous for outstanding films like Pho tuong (Statue) and Xuong rong den (Black cactus), said the film would be one of the most important works of his career.

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