Directed by: #TomGatley
Written by: Tom Gatley
“The War is Over!”
The iconic image of a woman surrounded by doves used for a poster to celebrate the end of the Vietnam war in 1975 designed by Phil Ochs and photographed by Cora Weiss & Dan Luce. Tom Gatley’s film Peace is a haunting short on the origin of the image as we watch the performance at Hanoi circus in 1972. With a three minute runtime, Gatley uses a single shot to tell this story and in its simplicity feels layered with all the complexity and pain of the period. Van Hu who portrays the performer stands still dressed in white as she slowly looks towards the camera, smiling and holding her arms out as doves begin to fly around her. During these actions, Gatley’s score swells loud as it drowns out auditory speeches from figures of the Vietnam war such as Richard Nixon along with the sounds of gunfire.
Hanoi 1972 takes on historical significance as it was the same year as “The Christmas Bombings” a major bombing campaign by the American military against Hanoi. National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger’s infamous comment of "peace is at hand” is believed to be one of the reasons to have created pressure on both sides for an agreement, leading to failed talks and then a more aggressive stance from the US. Gatley’s film doesn’t feel political though as the words of politicians are drowned out. Peace focuses on a human spirit that endures in this hostility but also in how it doesn’t remain unscathed.
As the film goes on though this seemingly celebratory and peaceful image takes on an eerie tone, cinematographer Andy Toovey has Hu lit by a spotlight, along with surrounding red lights, diffused by surrounding fog. Hu’s expression at the beginning of the film is saddened, perhaps the character is grieving a personal loss from the war but as the “performance” goes on the smile on her face seems to be strained. This expression holds as the doves begin to fly around the room, these red lights illuminating her face as she tries to mask the pain she’s in. Hu’s performance is captivating as this statuesque smile doesn’t reach her eyes, making the image of “peace” take on an unnerving feeling.
Is it peace though? Gatley directs the emotion of this film through his score as its climax leaves one unnerved rather than jubilant. Is it all a front to the pain beneath? Foreshadowing to the horror coming to Hanoi? You’re left with internal queries on what the image represents beyond the surface level and even if Gatley isn’t entirely clear with his intentions the sight of the woman is still as striking as it was forty years ago. With terrific visuals and score, Peace from Tom Gatley has a poignancy that makes it memorable.