Director hopes cinematic My Lai tale "awakens something'

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Massacre survivor wants a real apology from William Calley

Frenchman Gérard Saub as Peter Cage (L) in the film Nhung la thu tu Son My (Letters from Son My). Peter Cage is featured as US war criminal William Calley who returns to apologize for his crime in Son My area in the central Quang Ngai Province. (Photo Courtesy of Gérard Saub)

Le Dan says he cannot wait to screen "the most important work of my career" in Paris next week.

In his movie Letters from Son My, a character based on William Calley, the only US solider convicted of the killings of 504 innocent Vietnamese citizens in 1968, came back to Vietnam to apologize for the massacre at My Lai and other villages in Son My Commune in the central Quang Ngai Province.

"I hope my movie would be able to deliver a strong conviction against war atrocities and exhibit the tolerance and forgiveness of Vietnamese people," Dan told Thanh Nien Weekly via phone while en route to Paris on May 11.

War crime

The killings occurred on March 16, 1968 in the My Lai Hamlet. It began when men of Charlie Company under the command of Lieutenant Calley opened fire on civilians during a "search and destroy" mission in My Lai and neighboring villages.

The targets of the killings were mainly old men, women and children all unarmed as most younger members of the community were working in the fields.

The movie was inspired by the real apology which William Calley made in the US last August, Dan said.

In a rare public presentation last August, Calley said he was "very sorry" for the crime.

"There is not a day that goes by that I do not feel remorse for what happened that day in My Lai. I feel remorse for the Vietnamese who were killed, for their families, for the American soldiers involved and their families. I am very sorry," Calley said.

But Pham Thanh Cong, a survivor of the massacre who heads the My Lai Massacre museum and appears in the film, said Calley should come back to My Lai to make a direct apology to the Vietnamese people.

Real apology

Cong told Thanh Nien Weekly in a telephone interview the he accepted the war criminal's apology last year, but that there was still more for Calley to do.

"I want him to come here to feel the forgiveness of the people and to see the rebuilding of lives from the debris of the destruction he caused in the past."

The significance of the return would be for Calley's sake, not Vietnam's, Cong said.

"A real return and a real apology would help end years of remorse in Calley. It would do him good."

Tolerance and forgivenes

Film director Le Dan is pictured at his home in Ho Chi Minh City on April 2 (
Photo by AFP)

Dan, 82, said that though the main thrust of his movie would not focus on depicting the war atrocities, he hoped it would help to prevent another similar massacre elsewhere in the world.

"The tolerance and forgiveness of Vietnamese people would be the strongest conviction against any war atrocity. I want to convey that message to the world and to awake people who are still causing suffering elsewhere in the world," Dan said.

Letters from Son My's Calleycharacter, known in the film as Peter Cage, returns to Son My, where he 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 film is being screened at 6 p.m. on May 18 and 5 p.m. on 19 on the sidelines of the

Cannes Film Festival in Paris. Dan, one of Vietnam's most prominent directors, said it is expected to debut in Vietnam this September.

William Calley was initially sentenced to life imprisonment, but a series of legal actions and interventions by US President Richard Nixon made it so that he only spent three and a half years under house arrest.

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