Think of France during World War II, and one might recall images of Paris’ denizens, suffering under German occupation.
But even Vietnamese are unlikely to know of the 20,000 countrymen trafficked to France in 1939, to work under conditions of near slavery in the factories.
A documentary by director Lam Le, Cong Binh tells a forgotten history, of laborers recruited from then-French Indochina to man assembly lines for the French war effort. They were exploited by the government and capitalists both before and after France fell under Nazi Germany's control. When France was liberated by the Allies, these "worker soldiers" were returned in small batches from 1946-1952. Approximately 1,000 remained and settled in France.
The film follows two dozen of the surviving Cong Binh, the youngest of whom is eighty-five years old. Much credit is due to the director for having rediscovered these "worker soldiers," who had been leading difficult and forgotten lives in both France and Viet Nam. Sadder still are those who had barely been interviewed and recorded on film, whose stories Le had only begun to capture, before they slipped silently away forever.
Synopsis by: Mai Phi-Long