26 january 1999 - sundance film festival
regret to inform
a fantastic reconciliationIf war is a silly disasterous male tragedy, then perhaps it is up to women to resolve what men have ruined. That is the case with "Regret to Inform" the first film to propose a genuine healing of both sides wounded by the Vietnam/American war.
Previous American cinematic exaplorations of "the one we lost" have dealt with the conflict within the nation and the useless objectives of a distant war. This film puts each of the sides in dialog, and the result is an astonishing and absolutely critical revisiting of the war in Vietnam.
The movie works as a sort of travel piece as the filmmaker Barbara Sonneborn visits the area of Vietnam where her husband died during the war. As she approaches the site, various women in America and North and South Vietnam describe their relationships with their husbands, and the impact of the war on their lives.
Each shares letters from their husbands, dreams they had, how they reacted to the news of their death, an accounting of all they lost. While both sides have suffered, the Vietnamese women present the most astonishing stories, as they experienced firsthand the brutality and destruction of war. Between their tales is a backdrop of dramatic archive footage of slain and burning civilians - emphasizing the utter thoughtlessness of the proceedings. The pointless killing of Vietnamese family by American husbands is described in reverent, saddened tones by the wives and mothers that loved each of them.
That the filmmaker was able to take her own pain and use it as an opportunity for catharsis on both sides is absolutely commendable. The result is sobering and cathartic - one leaves the theatre understanding the critical importance of forgiveness as we admire these women coming to terms with all we've lost.