"If possible I will do what I can to ease the pain of war." — Huyen Nguyen
"Blood Road" isn't just a sports documentary. Instead, it's a look at the human cost of war; an ode to the harsh beauty of Southeast Asia and an incredibly personal tale of a journey 40 years in the making. Rebecca Rusch is an endurance athlete who barely knew her father. Air Force Captain Stephen Rusch was shot down over the Ho Chi Minh Trail during the Vietnam War and was listed as missing in action until a few of his teeth were found in 2007.
Rusch felt a pull to the area where it happened and concocted an idea: Cycling roughly 1,200 miles across Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia down the entire Ho Chi Minh Trail, arriving at her father's crash site on the anniversary of his death. She enlists Huyen Nguyen, a Vietnamese cyclist, to be her partner and translator for the ride and has her husband and a few others act as pathfinders and support throughout their three-week journey.
The documentary's gorgeous and lush cinematography makes this a stunning film to watch, even as the story creates some very interesting moral questions and contradictions. The land along the Ho Chi Minh trail was turned into Swiss cheese by all of the bombing runs, which Rusch's father participated in, even as we learn from his letters home how much he hated that part of the job. He saw no reason for the war and had trouble rationalizing his position there.
Rusch and Nguyen's fathers fought on opposing sides of a war that still affects the people who live along the trail. The modern world feels like it's fighting tooth and nail to overtake the past there, but the wounds are still too fresh. The endless bomb craters were never filled in because when it rained they would become little ecosystems for fish and bacteria.
Even surrounded by the staggering amount of death visible in every crater, there's life clawing its way back to the surface. The land across Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia is pockmarked with unexploded ordinance, which people live beside and treat like an unstable neighbor to be ignored. They live with the ghosts of their fathers everyday.
As touching as it is to witness Rusch decimating her body to find a piece of emotional catharsis by connecting with the memory of a father she barely knew, seeing another white person's journey of self-discovery is nowhere near as interesting as the devastating view of everything we lose when we succumb to our basest instincts. Even with the post-script saying that the U.S. is sending money to help defuse the thousands of unexploded bombs across Southeast Asia, it'd hard not to feel like the damage is already done, no matter how good the intentions.
Dir. Nicholas Schrunk
Thursday, July 13. 8pm
McMenamins Old St. Francis School
700 NW Bond St., Bend
Q&A with Rebecca Rusch after the film