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ÖEven love of country is not deeper than the love we have togetherÖ

The first words from Barbara Sonnebornís Regret to Inform, sung by a Vietnamese war widow, perfectly characterize this 1998 Oscar nominee for Best Documentary. Centered around the filmmakerís journey to Vietnam twenty years after an enemy mortar killed her husband, Regret to Inform shares the stories of American and Vietnamese women who lost loved ones to the war.

The cruelty that we experienced was longer than a river, higher than a mountain, deeper than an ocean.

The most compelling elements of Regret to Inform are the views from both sides of the struggle. Dozens of women convey their loss, their grief, their confusion. While the American women were alone and uncertain, sometimes for years, of their companionsí fates, the Vietnamese women were dealing with the same emotions as well as the war in their own villages. Many had to deal not only with loss of family and loved ones, but also with torture at the hands of the South Vietnamese army. Sonnebornís companion on her journey, Xuan Ngoc Nguyen, also lost her husband in the Vietnam War and subsequently married an American soldier and returned with him to the US. Nguyenís experiences during the war as a child, widow and prostitute and after as an unwanted bride in the "enemyís" country provide a fascinating counterbalance to Sonnebornís and the two epitomize the experiences shared by all of the women in the film.

What does it look like when someone you love is hit by a mortar?

The interviews segments in Regret to Inform are done extremely well. While we never hear Sonnebornís questions, the narratives elicited from all of the participants are absolutely engrossing. There is no hint of any attempt by the director to draw out particular emotions or excite any passions. Never simply sobbing that they miss their husbands, Sonneborn and several of the women interviewed on both sides question not only their own personal loss, but also larger issues such as the validity of Americaís presence in Vietnam. They ask themselves the most difficult of questions; what their husbands felt when they died and what they felt when they killed.

Compared to the other stories shared in Regret to Inform, Sonnebornís own narrative seemed somewhat detached and I was never certain if she achieved any real closure upon her visit to the location where her husband had died. It seems as though an answer is not that simple, as Sonneborn states "what haunted me wasn't that Jeff died here, but that he had to be a part of this at all."

Sometimes the effects of a war donít happen right away. It isnít just the war is [in Vietnam] and itís over Ė it starts when it ends.

Regret to Inform also follows the stories of several soldiers who survived the combat, but were felled by Agent Orange and the terror of flashbacks. Sonneborn recounts the tale of one woman she met at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial wall: "My husbandís name should be on the wall," she says. "He left his soul in Vietnam. It took his body seven years to catch up. He went out in the garage and shot himself. He left a note that said, ĎI love you sweetheart, but I just can't take the flashbacks anymore.í"

When I was young I had hatred in order to defend my country and my people. Now there are not many days left in my life, and there is peace, I can see that we are all the same, people there and people here.

Regret to Inform is a marvelous film in that, moving past the horrors of war, both physical and emotional, Sonnebornís story and all of those her film captures reveal that the mutual loss between all involved ultimately leads to a shared understanding.

The Regret to Inform DVD features the POV interview with Barbara Sonneborn, the filmmakerís photo gallery, the original theatrical trailer, crew biographies and a map of key sites of the Vietnam War.

Mark A. Nichols
williejoeshaver@yahoo.com