White low stelae aligned with a line on a green meadow, it is the military cemetery of Arlington, near Washington where, since the Civil War, American soldiers are buried. Stone gardens (1987) opens there, with the funeral of a non-commissioned officer. Parade, ringing to the dead, triple salute of honor, the American flag covering the coffin will be handed over, folded to the very young widow, surrounded by her family. We will find the same scene, with the same characters at the very end. It is filmed differently. This is because, in the three-quarter hour that the film lasts, we will have come to know these characters. And why they are there. It is 1968. Willow, the young soldier who is being honored, died in Vietnam. We had seen him, at the very beginning, arrive in Arlington, in this regiment called the “old guard”, assigned to the cemetery. But he, the son of a soldier, has only one desire, to go to the front. We will also have had time to get to know those he loved, in his short life. And it’s everyday garrison life, in this place that, as one soldier welcoming Willow said on day one, “Thanks to Vietnam is booming”.
However, and this is all the strength of a staging that remains at the level of the daily life of these ordinary lives in a regiment where they find themselves, one non-commissioned officer will say, “Divas of the guard of honor”, it is the most radical condemnation of the Vietnam War that American cinema has given us. A war that you only see on television, shaky and blurry images. A war and its distant reflection: maneuvers in the United States itself, during which a sergeant who has taken the head of the “enemy” party wants to show the recruits that it would be wrong to underestimate their future adversaries. Curious specimen, moreover, this sergeant: he wants to return to Vietnam, a war which he knows in advance lost. Not out of concern for the glory to be acquired, but because he thinks he can save young compatriots’ lives there. And his companion, journalist, militates against this same war. For other reasons, of course, than his. And again … But let’s stop there, everyone can find their own honey.
Eight years later Apocalypse Now (1979), where the crash of helicopters against a background of great Wagnerian airs spoke of the devastation of a country, Coppola with Stone gardens undertakes an X-ray of what then happened in his country. He does it with a delicacy of touch, a way of never raising the tone which only makes the denunciation all the more poignant, like these two planes of the beginning and the end, imperceptibly different, which require the spectator to be attentive. to details. Way to respect it.