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Vrouwenkamp Borneo
IMDB Rating: 7.4/10 from votes
Release: 20 February 1950 (USA) /

Vrouwenkamp Borneo

Genre: Drama, War
Director: Nunnally Johnson,
Stars: , , , , , , ,
Synopsis: The true story of Agnes Newton Keith's imprisonment in several Japanese prisoner-of-war camps from 1941 to the end of WWII. Separated from her husband and with a young son to care for she has many difficulties to face. Written by Col Needham <[email protected]>

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Critic Reviews


I came upon this film by accident Sunday afternoon as I channel surfed by a PBS station. I expected to laugh at it for a few minutes and then shut off its caricature of noble Brits and Yanks resisting their evil Asian captors. For the black and white glow from the screen prejudiced me to anticipate yet another farcical exemplar of Edward Said's "Orientalism" transposed for the land of the rising sun.

So, unlike the first commentator on this film, I was actually pleased by the balance in its presentation. For although these days of Ozzie and Harriet rarely projected overt brutality realistically onto the screen, this film does provide a palpable sense of the suffering endured by European prisoners of war. At the same time, it did not end on this note: one of the more powerful Japanese camp directors suffers a loss in his family due to the Hiroshima bombing. And it is this counterbalance later in the film which I think causes me to disagree with the first commentator's view that this is something of a propaganda film.

Several things about this film stand out to me as justly bold for that era of film-making:

*an attempted rape is portrayed as well as a realistic presentation of its consequences. Accordingly, a complex moral lesson is imparted to the audience: far more complex, I might add, than the lessons Hollywood chooses to impart in many contemporary films with respect to such events. Perhaps this is simply an accident of the narrative being based on true events.

*the main character is a woman who is educated, brave and yet sympathizes with Asian culture (she is a scholar who has published an anthropological study which had been translated into Japanese) even if she vehemently opposes Japan's aggression.

*Hiroshima and the firebombings of Tokyo are presented from the Japanese viewpoint as horrific events and their effect in this movie is to engender sympathy for the ambiguous figure of the camp commander.

Of course this is still a Hollywood movie of the 50s and some of the behavior seems stilted and implausible to contemporary audiences. But compared to some other films made then - or even today - it is a breath of fresh air. I never expected to watch this whole film but was quite happy I did. I highly recommend it to others (which is why I bothered to write this!) as a date movie (in spite of the subject matter the strong female character and love story recommend it here) or a film to show children over ten (get a map so the child can locate Borneo) to introduce them to the many moral and political questions arising out of the war in the Pacific. Enjoy!

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