Film Review: The Missing Picture
Cambodian-French director, Rithy Pahn believes we all live through childhood twice, once as a child and then again in middle age when it returns to seek us. For Pahn, the revisitation with his eleven year-old self, who survived under Pol Pots’ regime is bittersweet. Oscar-nominated for Best Foreign Language film, The Missing Picture is a highly poetic and historically significant documentary about the famine and dire lives of Cambodians under the Khmer Rouge from 1975 to 1979. During his power, communist dictator, Pol Pot abolished Cambodia of all academia, modern day medicine and creative arts, stripping Cambodians of their culture and identities. Pahn was denied his name, relation to his family and was given a number – a number that represented a new life of privation, slavery and famine. Pahn features short clips of childhood memories from before the 1975 invasion throughout his documentary. He describes his early childhood and home as being torn from its history, which we observe firsthand; Pahn’s hand-made brightly coloured clay figures and recreations of family gatherings coupled with traditional music highlighting the contrast between childhood before and after Pol Pot came to power. After, Pahn’s family home was turned into a brothel and the local school became the interrogation and assassination ground. Pahn says if there’s one thing everyone should have, it is ‘strength of memory’. In a sense, he has revived his childhood entirely though his own memory, using self-made clay figures and sets to accompany the narration of his story. He takes the audience through the horrors of losing his family one by one and the memories of seeing children die of starvation, which still haunt him. Pahn encourages the audience to reflect on this period politically and within a global context by featuring archival footage of Neil Armstrong’s moon landing, along with the famous quote, “One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind”. While the world was caught up in the space race to assert intelligence and power, mass murder and torture took the lives of two million Cambodians, under a regime arguably largely fuelled by the US. The audience is thus reminded of the destructive power of politics and how the desire to rule can lead to the dehumanisation of citizens. Pahn says, “It’s not karma or religion that kills people, it’s ideology”. While the use of clay figures and hand-made sets, alongside stock footage to tell a personal account could lead to apathy in its viewers, it has the opposite effect. The faces of the clay figures, painstakingly hand-crafted by the director, bear distressed expressions and when coupled with Pahn’s narration present a very raw and affecting interpretation of events. By featuring clay figures, Pahn also succeeds at avoiding any glorification of war as re-enactments can sometimes do. The Missing Picture is surely an important piece to be placed in Cambodia’s historical archives. Pahn accepted that the missing picture he was looking for did not exist among the propaganda and forged realities that photos and videos of 1975 represented, so has created his own to add to what may be called the darkest piece of Cambodian history. 4.5 out of 5 stars Review by Abbey Casey The Missing Picture is showing at Cinema Nova from March 20.