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INDOCHINA: Traces of a Mother    cover image

INDOCHINA: Traces of a Mother 2011

Highly Recommended

Distributed by Third World Newsreel, 545 Eighth Avenue, Suite 550, New York, NY 10018; 212-947-9277
Produced by MKJ FILMS - NOBLE FILMS and Arouna Sacca Mora-Kpai
Directed by Idrissou Mora-Kpai
DVD, color, 1 hr. 14 min.

High School - General Adult
Education, Human Rights, Psychology, Sociology

Date Entered: 12/21/2015

Reviewed by LaRoi Lawton, Library & Learning Resources Department, Bronx Community College of the City University of New York

This film is about the tirailleurs sénégalais, West African soldiers who fought on behalf of France during both World Wars and in the War in Indochina. Between 1946 and 1954, over 60,000 African soldiers were enlisted by the French (often involuntarily) to fight the Viet Minh. At the end of the war, the French ordered that all mixed race children be sent back to Africa. In some cases where neither parent was able or willing, the child or children were put in orphanages, as in the case of Christophe in this film. Mora-Kpai takes an in-depth look at the nuance of these mixed race families during both wars, specifically those of the West African soldiers, their Vietnamese wives, and their children, torn between countries and unclear in their status in the post-colonial world.

In this particular film, Christophe, a 58-year-old Afro-Vietnamese man, takes a journey back to Vietnam in search of his mother. The uncertainties born of the marriages between former soldiers and Vietnamese women is evident. Christophe, like so many other children, was shipped back to Africa by the colonial army after the war, and would never see his mother. In looking at the film there is an impression given by the African soldiers interviewed that if these children were not brought back to Benin, Togo, Senegal, they would have been killed. Indeed, as Christophe attempts to find out about the orphanage where he grew up in Vietnam, the information has been buried or destroyed.

This film is a slow but in-depth look at the ambiguity of being a person with no familial connection due to an abrupt separation imposed by others. Christophe makes a good life for himself back in Africa thanks to his military training, and he is married and has a son. Christophe’s Odysseus like journey back home to find his original roots is paved with anxiety, grief and to a degree, a relief. There is no resolution here as he finds out that his mother Nica has died. He pours her ashes in the Mekong Delta where she would bathe every day.

Mora-Kpai is one of the leading documentary filmmakers in West Africa and is well known at the Panafrican Film and Television Festival of Ouagadougou. This film was the Winner of the Best Documentary Award at the Algiers International Film Festival in 2012.