Won Oscar for 1968 Vietnam War documentary
Pierre Schoendoerffer, an Oscar-winning French filmmaker who was held prisoner in Indochina and chronicled the pain of war onscreen and on the page, died Wednesday, March 14, after an operation at a hospital outside Paris. He was 83.
“France will miss him,” President Nicolas Sarkozy said in a statement that praised the “legendary filmmaker and novelist” for risking his life for France and “helping us better understand our collective history.”
Born in central France, Schoendoerffer served as a cameraman in the French army in the 1950s and volunteered to be parachuted into the besieged fortress of Dien Bien Phu, where the decisive battle of the French war in Indochina was fought. When the stronghold fell to the Vietnamese guerrilla army in May 1954, Schoendoerffer was captured and spent four months in a POW camp before being repatriated.
After the war, Schoendoerffer became a war correspondent in Algeria and also worked in Malaysia, Morocco, Yemen and Laos.
He first gained fame as a film director for the gritty realism of his 1965 film “The 317th Platoon,” which traced a doomed group of French and Laotian soldiers retreating through the jungles ahead of the final rebel offensive in 1954. Critics have described the black-and-white film as a masterpiece among war movies and among the best Vietnam War films ever made.
Schoendoerffer also made his mark as a screenwriter for his 1975 film “Drummer Crab” — based on a book he wrote by the same name — and the 1982 film “A Captain’s Honor.”
In 1991, he returned to Vietnam to film “Dien Bien Phu,” a big-budget docudrama about the 55-day battle that ended France’s colonial rule in Indochina and marked the start of U.S. involvement there.
Schoendoerffer won an Academy Award in 1968 for his documentary “The Anderson Platoon,” filmed in Vietnam.