Posted: 06/28/2011


Dust of Life

by Elaine Hegwood Bowen

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From the Academy-Award ® nominated/César award-winning, internationally acclaimed filmmaker Franco-Algerian filmmaker, Rachid Bouchareb (Days of Glory, Outside the Law), Dust of Life (Pouissères de vie), is available now for the first time on DVD in the United States. The New York Times called the film an “Engrossing adventure,” when the film played at the Film Forum in 1995.

Dust of Life tells the story of 40,000 Amerasian children left behind in South Vietnam by their American G.I. fathers following the war. Based on Duyen Anh’s novel “La Colline de Fanta,” the film features Daniel Guyant as Son; Gilles Chitlaphone as Bob; Leon Outtrabady as Shrimp; and Jehan Pages as Little Hai.

Dust of Life, presented by Cinema Libre Studio, tells the story of Son, who has a Vietnamese mother and African-American father. Son waits and waits for his father to return to Vietnam after the war. But his father never returns, and he is separated from his mother, when he and other orphans of the war are captured by Vietnamese soldiers. The kids have been wandering the streets of Saigon, and Son is alone after his mother can’t leave Saigon, because she doesn’t have the proper documentation.

The boys are forced to work in what can only be described as a slave camp, while Son yearns for his father, while secretly clinging on to his cross and a photo of his father.
Orphans, shoeshine boys and delinquents are called the “dust specs of life,” who are abused by their captors and pitted against each other.

While the landscape is beautiful to watch in Dust of Life, the treatment that the children receive is heart wrenching, when you know that they didn’t do anything to put themselves in this situation. Their captors are against Christianity, and Son is bent on keeping his cross, even though he eventually loses it. He and a couple of other captives finally gather up enough courage and imagination to build a raft to try to escape. After getting so far, they are re-captured and put in the Tiger Cage, which is a cage below ground, from which there is little chance for escape.

Dust of Life shows the resilience and determination of a young man, Son, who is committed to making life better for himself and possibly meeting his American father whom he has never seen. Son is educated, compared to the other young detainees. This makes him a unique prisoner, as well as a valuable one. The film tugs at your heart, seeing the young boys beaten and starved, all at the hands of the Vietnamese army. It’s a great film, even if it does bring tears to your eyes.

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Elaine Hegwood Bowen is an editor, writer and film critic in Chicago.

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