A Killing Field Documentary – a model movie


While I ponder on RUN – the new Cambodian Zombie movie, one other Khmer film I saw this year was the excellent though in some regards harrowing documentary The Missing Picture.  A 2013 Cambodian documentary film directed by Rithy Panh about the Khmer Rouge the movie screened to great acclaim in the Un Certain Regard section at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival where it won the top prize. The film was also selected as the Cambodian entry for the Best Foreign Language Film at the 86th Academy Awards.

The film is the personal account, by the director’narrator, of his family’s experience under the Khmer Rouge, and because there is no record – the missing picture theme – of what happened, the film maker uses clay models to ‘re-enact’ the story. There is something about the crude simplicity of those models that makes the story more powerful – more subject to the terrors of the imagination.

I saw the film with a friend in New Zealand, Chakara Lim, who is an energetic champion for the local Khmer community in my city, and I asked him after the film about his thoughts. Strangely, he said, he felt somewhat unmoved despite the fact that the details of the story – the years of starvation, of families being turned against themselves, of good people being brutally punished for showing acts of compassion – all these things rang true to his own experience.

We are both storytellers and we discussed this: concluding that the narrator remains a voice behind the camera and his detachment makes it hard to sympathise.

So mixed reviews here – but I’d recommend the movie if you can find it on DVD. The history of the Pol  Pot years is a story that needs sharing and consideration: it indelibly stains the landscape of the modern Khmer people.

Into cinema? See how a new Cambodian Zombie Movie makes its mark.

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