79 Springs is a short documentary biopic of Ho Chi Minh.
Now maybe, like me, you know sweet fuck all about Ho Chi Minh. I know that he wrote the Vietnamese Declaration of Independence, which directly lifted words straight from the American Declaration of Independence in hopes that it might make the Americans not shit their breeks with fear and overreact, a play which did not land unfortunately. I know roughly how the Vietnam War went. I know that the city where the Americans choppered out at the end of the war, kicking their pals aff the legs of the helicopter, is now known as Ho Chi Minh City. But I didn’t know anything about the man.
His life before politics and war was actually a pretty peaceful one. He was a student and a scholar, learning to speak many languages and writing poetry. Which is just never how I pictured Ho Chi Minh.
The film is broken up into chapters of his life, marking out his age by saying so-many springs. Each chapter opens, then cycles through a descent into struggle and strife, before emerging again at a new ‘spring’.
The footage of the years of the war are absolutely horrific. People here don’t realise just how sanitised our digest of war is, there’s a lot the news simply cannot show. And even as we move away from television broadcast news, those standards still stand in a lot of the online output of British news companies. Even when we do see acts of violence, it’s usually in a still photograph, to protect us against the natural stomach-churning reaction to seeing something horrific and traumatic happen in front of you. That’s why whenever they talk of the horrors of the Vietnam War here, the first thing your mind turns to is photos, the wee lassie running down the road, naked and burnt. In Santiago’s films, those guidelines/censorships or that culture of sanitation was not part of his Cuban experience, so the films don’t show still photos, but videos of napalm victims, some of them children, somehow living, despite their bodies being destroyed. Be warned it’s awful to watch.
Ho Chi Minh died about three-quarters of the way through the Vietnam War. By that time he was 79 years old (hence the film’s title), and he effectively died of old age, in bed at home. The film shows the mourning of his followers, and his body lying in state. But the film frames this as just another winter of hardship, before the certain return of spring. This time it will be a spring for all his people, free from war and imperial rule.
Really beautifully put together film. An uplifting obituary.