Pierre Schoendoerffer, 83, an Oscar-winning French filmmaker who was held prisoner in Indochina and chronicled the pain of war on screen and on the page, died Wednesday, the French military health service said. France's Le Figaro newspaper said Schoendoerffer died in a hospital outside Paris after an operation.
Born in central France on May 5, 1928, Schoendoerffer served as a cameraman in the French army in the 1950s and volunteered to be parachuted into the besieged fortress of Dien Bien Phu, where the decisive battle of the French war in Indochina was fought.
When the stronghold fell to the Vietnamese guerrilla army in May 1954, Schoendoerffer was captured and spent four months in a POW camp before being repatriated.
After the war, he became a war correspondent in Algeria, and also worked in Malaysia, Morocco, Yemen and Laos.
He first gained fame as a film director for the gritty realism of his 1965 film, "The 317th Platoon," which traced a doomed group of French and Laotian soldiers retreating through the jungle ahead of the final rebel offensive in 1954. Critics have described the black-and-white film as a masterpiece among war movies in general, and among the best films ever made about Vietnam wars.
Schoendoerffer also wrote screenplays for his 1977 film, "Le Crabe Tambour" ("Drummer Crab") — based on a book he wrote — and the 1982 film "A Captain's Honor."
He returned to Vietnam to film "Dien Bien Phu," a 1992 big-budget drama about the battle.
Schoendoerffer won an Academy Award in 1968 for his documentary "The Anderson Platoon," filmed in Vietnam.
-- Los Angeles Times staff and wire reports