The difficult circumstances and silent contributions of Vietnamese peasants across southern French fields more than 7 decades ago, when they were unwillingly brought to the European country, was documented and recently premiered in France.

France-Vietnam Friendship Parliamentarian Group President Pascal Deguilhem said his agency is pleased to host the premiere of the documentary Bitter Rice, and that the event aims to enhance ties and share memories between the two nations.

The film was based on the book “Immigres de Force, les Travailleurs Indochinois en France 1939-1952” (Immigrants Force, the Indochinese workers in France 1939-1952) by French journalist Pierre Daum. The book recounted the story of 20,000 Indochinese workers, mostly Vietnamese, who were forced to leave their countries for France in 1939. The move was designed to ease labour shortage issues in the defence industry as many young French were sent to the battle field.

After three months at sea, their boat reached southern French Marseille city’s port and its unwilling passengers were immediately confined before being sent to work at gunpowder factories. After France lost the war to the Nazis a year later, most of the forced immigrants were trapped in the unfamiliar land, working day and night in local fields as prisoners or slaves.

Their efforts turned a century-old saline land into a high-yield rice production area—now a pride of southern France—but was not appropriately recognised by the Government and was forgotten after the war.

The documentary provides insight into the period of French colonisation, said Daum, hoping its wide screening would put pressure on the government to remedy its past mistreatment.

According to Deguilhem, the France-Vietnam Friendship Parliamentarian Group—who initiated the film—is running campaigns for state recognition of the legitimate rights of Vietnamese workers.

Bitter Rice is a product of Pointe Sud Production and France Television. It is scheduled to be screened in Arles city on May 12 and broadcasted on the channel France 3 on May 18.-VNA