Reviews - Specialty Releases


Film Review: The Missing Picture

Using archival footage and clay sculptures, Rithy Panh recalls his years of imprisonment in Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge.

March 18, 2014

-By Daniel Eagan


filmjournal/photos/stylus/1396068-Missing_Picture_Md.jpg

For movie details, please click here.

A survivor of the Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia, Rithy Panh has made several documentaries about the devastating effect of its policies. One of the problems with documenting the period is that motion pictures, apart from propaganda, were suspect. Generally, only material approved by the government survived.

In The Missing Picture, Panh tries to compensate for the absence of a visual record with clay sculptures that are photographed in elaborate dioramas. Reduced in scale, the enormity of the Khmer Rouge atrocities becomes easier to comprehend, if harder to understand.

When Panh was 13, he and his middle-class family were removed from Phnom Penh in 1975 and transported by cattle car to remote labor camps. Panh's father went on the equivalent of a hunger strike and died. Panh's mother and sisters also succumbed. His older brother, a musician, disappeared.

Panh is assigned to different camps, on dry plains and in jungles. The inmates are systematically starved and worked to exhaustion as part of their "re-education."

With their elemental poses, the rough clay figurines serve as abstractions for the Khmer Rouge victims. (Estimates range from one to three million dead.) As Prum Mésa's camera prowls among them, they show what archival footage cannot—senseless violence and death in a world without any form of culture, in which normality has been upended.

Panh intercuts propaganda shots of Pol Pot and other Khmer Rouge leaders at political conventions, as well as newsreel footage of labor camps and some clandestine material taken by a cinematographer who was later executed.

The Missing Picture also features dense aural collages of pop and folk songs, movie soundtracks and Khmer Rouge anthems. They provide a ghostly counterpart to the measured narration delivered by Randal Douc.

It's hard to grasp the scale of crimes perpetuated by the Khmer Rouge. The sculptures and quiet voiceover in The Missing Picture distance viewers somewhat from the full horror of the scenes depicted. (A contemporary scene of a young boy trying to till soil gives an indication of just how shocking Panh's daily life was.)

It took years for the full extent of the catastrophe in Cambodia to emerge. Panh, one of the founders of Bophana, a group helping preserve Cambodia's film and audio history, has been in the forefront of keeping the Khmer Rouge story before the public. But this is harsh, gruesome material that is not easy to watch.

The Missing Picture received the top prize at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival's Un Certain Regard, and was Cambodia's submission for Best Foreign Language Film at the Academy Awards.


Film Review: The Missing Picture

Using archival footage and clay sculptures, Rithy Panh recalls his years of imprisonment in Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge.

March 18, 2014

-By Daniel Eagan


filmjournal/photos/stylus/1396068-Missing_Picture_Md.jpg

For movie details, please click here.

A survivor of the Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia, Rithy Panh has made several documentaries about the devastating effect of its policies. One of the problems with documenting the period is that motion pictures, apart from propaganda, were suspect. Generally, only material approved by the government survived.

In The Missing Picture, Panh tries to compensate for the absence of a visual record with clay sculptures that are photographed in elaborate dioramas. Reduced in scale, the enormity of the Khmer Rouge atrocities becomes easier to comprehend, if harder to understand.

When Panh was 13, he and his middle-class family were removed from Phnom Penh in 1975 and transported by cattle car to remote labor camps. Panh's father went on the equivalent of a hunger strike and died. Panh's mother and sisters also succumbed. His older brother, a musician, disappeared.

Panh is assigned to different camps, on dry plains and in jungles. The inmates are systematically starved and worked to exhaustion as part of their "re-education."

With their elemental poses, the rough clay figurines serve as abstractions for the Khmer Rouge victims. (Estimates range from one to three million dead.) As Prum Mésa's camera prowls among them, they show what archival footage cannot—senseless violence and death in a world without any form of culture, in which normality has been upended.

Panh intercuts propaganda shots of Pol Pot and other Khmer Rouge leaders at political conventions, as well as newsreel footage of labor camps and some clandestine material taken by a cinematographer who was later executed.

The Missing Picture also features dense aural collages of pop and folk songs, movie soundtracks and Khmer Rouge anthems. They provide a ghostly counterpart to the measured narration delivered by Randal Douc.

It's hard to grasp the scale of crimes perpetuated by the Khmer Rouge. The sculptures and quiet voiceover in The Missing Picture distance viewers somewhat from the full horror of the scenes depicted. (A contemporary scene of a young boy trying to till soil gives an indication of just how shocking Panh's daily life was.)

It took years for the full extent of the catastrophe in Cambodia to emerge. Panh, one of the founders of Bophana, a group helping preserve Cambodia's film and audio history, has been in the forefront of keeping the Khmer Rouge story before the public. But this is harsh, gruesome material that is not easy to watch.

The Missing Picture received the top prize at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival's Un Certain Regard, and was Cambodia's submission for Best Foreign Language Film at the Academy Awards.
Post a Comment
Asterisk (*) is a required field.
* Author: 
Rate This Article: (1=Bad, 5=Perfect)

*Comment:
 

More Specialty Releases

Tracks
Film Review: Tracks

Ably supported by Adam Driver, Mia Wasikowska commands the screen in John Curran’s superbly photographed drama based on a true story. More »

The Zero Theorem
Film Review: The Zero Theorem

A noisy, hyperkinetic, visually gorgeous spectacle that tackles the mother of all big questions–the meaning of life—Terry Gilliam's latest is sometimes frustrating and occasionally outright goofy, but it's never dull. More »

Art and Craft
Film Review: Art and Craft

Documentary portrait of the artist as a disturbed man, but one who is overwhelmingly endearing, functioning and talented—and whose métier happens to be art forgery. This smartly produced and constructed art-themed art-house entry delivers a canvas of caper, comedy and delightful curiosities that engage and provoke some serious thought. Like the hero’s forgeries, it deserves a close look. More »

Pump
Film Review: Pump

Thought-provoking documentary about the lunacy of only fueling cars with gasoline loses credibility the more it turns into a single-minded broadside. More »

ADVERTISEMENT



REVIEWS

The Maze Runner
Film Review: The Maze Runner

Youths try to break out of a deadly maze in the latest young-adult doomsday thriller. More »

This is Where I Leave You
Film Review: This Is Where I Leave You

Siblings bond, fight and face new problems after the death of their father in an ensemble dramedy based on the best-selling novel. More »

Player for the Film Journal International website.


ADVERTISEMENT



INDUSTRY GUIDES

» Blue Sheets
FJI's guide to upcoming movie releases, including films in production and development. Check back weekly for the latest additions.

» Distribution Guide
» Equipment Guide
» Exhibition Guide

ORDER A PRINT SUBSCRIPTION

Film Journal International

Subscribe to the monthly print edition of Film Journal International and get the full visual impact of this valuable resource for the cinema business.

» Click Here

SPONSORSHIP OPPORTUNITIES

Learn how to promote your company at the Film Expo Group events: ShowEast, CineEurope, and CineAsia.

» Click Here