Sunday, October 6, 2013
Missing Picture (2013) New York Film Festival
Director Rithy Panh recreates his years under the Khmer Rouge using dioramas and a few scraps of film footage from the Khmer's own propaganda films. The result is film that is largely an informative look at life under a mad regime.
The story begins when Panh was 12 and the Khmer's took over the country. Emptying the cities they forced everyone into reeducation camps where they were worked to death and starved for their troubles. Panh lays out what life was like in those hellish times as those in charge tried to force everyone back to some fictional glorious agrarian past.
With all his possessions gone, with all the pictures of his life gone Panh turns to dioramas in order to illustrate what he and his fellow countrymen went through. Its a bold stroke that makes what was going to be a conventional look at the same story and turns it into something better. For whatever reason seeing the small figures makes the story more real then if we had been treated to actors and actresses. We are in the camps, and the swamps and the empty cities. Everything is highlighted by the use of the Khmer footage which reveals the world as the Khnmers wanted it seen. Its a scary tale.
For me the film is a wonderful primer of what happened when the Khmer's came calling. So long as the film remains focused on life in the camps we are getting a wonderful history lesson and being told one hell of a tale of survival.
The trouble is that somewhere in the final half hour Panh trails off. He stops telling us about life in the camps and begins waxing poetically. Narratively Panh simply says that after the war many people stayed in the villages to which they had been brought and that some people were never tried for their crimes. Its all anti-climatic as is his attempt to explain how the Khmer's took power in a final moment reference to land grabs and US bombings. Things were not that amorphously simple.
I liked this film a great deal. Actually I love the first half and merely like the second. That said this is a good film and is worth tracking down when it next screens on the 8th at the Film Festival.