This was Cambodia's entrance for the 2014 Oscars as best foreign language film. It tells the story of Rithy Panh who narrates his tale of what happened to him and his loved ones when Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge took over Cambodia. Renaming it Kampuchea and taking the country back to year zero. He uses a mix of archive footage and clay figures which have been carved by hand to recreate what took place. The missing picture are the parts of history that was not photographed and as such only those who were there can bear witness to the atrocities that took place.
When the capital Pnom Penh was emptied - over two million people were uprooted and moved into the countryside. They had every modern thing taken away and were only allowed the clothes on their back - except the shoes and a spoon. The clothes had to be dyed black. They were forced to work in the collectivised camps often doing menial back breaking work that had no real value except to crush the will of the people. The individual as a concept was ended - the party was all that mattered. Death and disease were rampant and this is all told using the clay figures. The Khmer Rouge used to fire slogans at the people all day so that even now Rithy Panh can remember them all verbatim - like `Each being will be a revolutionary or fertiliser for rice'.
There are scenes of animal cruelty here from the archives too as well as humans being mistreated. It can be a difficult watch in places but the narrative is often quite poetic. It is all in French with good subtitles. A very moving and sad account of what this poor man went through and told in an unusual medium. Whilst it may seem to be less immediate because of the little figurines, it still packs quite a punch when you hear what took place in 1975 to 1979 to a country the world seemed to have forgotten about.
on 9 April 2015
Interesting idea, from someone who has something to say. Animation is much easier to do now, thanks to computers, but I would never have predicted that it would become a powerful tool of the documentary filmmaker. Even though I had seen the Killing Fields the strangeness of the story gripped me. I was quite amazed by the archive footage of chubby cheeked Pol Pot and friends. You don't get that from a drama or fiction film. He balanced the story by telling the viewer that the American decision to drop 500 000 tons of bombs on this tiny country drove the population into the arms of hitherto unpopular, French educated but crackpot Marxist theorists. Another thing that was moving was the tableau of the woman silently weeping as her nine year old son denounced her to the Khmer Rouge for taking mangos from a tree. She continued to weep quietly as she was led away, never to be seen again.