"The 317th Platoon" (1965)
Directed by Pierre Schoendoerffer
(Not rated, 1 hour, 40 minutes)
Pierre Schoendoerffer had been a POW in Vietnam following the French defeat at the Battle of Dien Bien Phu; less than 10 years after that battle, which took place in the waning days of the French war in Indochina, he returned, with a crew of six, to the Cambodian jungle during the rainy season to shoot this extraordinarily realistic film based on his own semi-autobiographical novel.
In 1954 while the Battle of Dien Bien Phu is being fought, the 317th Platoon, composed of Laotian troops, under a French officer and several NCOs, is ordered to evacuate its post in North Cambodia, crossing the jungle to the relative safety of the French-held town of Tao Tsai. But the mission goes wrong almost from the start, testing the competence of the rookie platoon leader, Second Lieutenant Torrens (Jacques Perrin), who clashes with his seasoned second-in-command Willsdorf (Bruno Cremer), a World War II veteran. After Torrens' bravado results in the wounding of another of the NCOs, the Laotian troops place their trust in cautious Willsdorf, as they try to stay alive while waiting in vain for air support.
Oliver Stone, whose "Platoon" was obviously influenced by Schoendoerffer's film, has said "The 317th Platoon" and Schoendoerffer's 1966 documentary "The Anderson Platoon" are the only films he thought portrayed "a realistic image of the war in Indochina."
"The 317th Platoon" is often cited as one of the greatest war movies ever made. The new restoration, available from Icarus Films, is presented in French and Vietnamese with English subtitles.
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