Saturday, April 12, 2014

L'image Manquante (The Missing Picture)

The story from the first paragraph of the EFC review is absolutely true - the bus I take home seemed to skip a circuit, so by the time I was at Central Square on the Red Line, I was doing the math that said it would take a few minutes to get from here to the next stop, and then I've timed myself at about seven minutes between the T stop and the theater, which gives me a five minute cushion, but they really don't have anything starting afterward that I want to use as a plan B if that's not enough, and I'm kind of worn out and there's baseball on TV and aw, screw it, I'll get off here and go home. I'm hungry for something that doesn't come from a concession stand anyway.

I'll be honest, every time there is a blank day on a This Week in Tickets page, I've probably had some variant of that conversation with myself, and it's a lot easier to go home when the movie involved is certain to be the sort of downer that had phrases like "Khmer Rouge work camp" in the title. I admire the folks who can spend a much bigger chunk of their leisure time watching the news, or focusing on things that have something important to say while I'm planning my movie-watching around the French cartoon with the mouse and bear. I think the importance of the latter is often underestimated, but I know that I talk myself out of the difficult material all too often.

That's probably not going to change, but I do wish I hadn't delayed seeing this one those twenty-four hours. Maybe I would have had something written in time to possibly interest one or two people in seeing it before the end of its brief Boston-area run (seven days, and splitting a screen with Particle Fever for those). It's an interesting documentary, both for what it's about and the creative way the filmmakers get it across, and I hope people find other ways to discover it.

L'Image Manquante (The Missing Picture)

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 9 April 2014 in Landmark Kendall Square #9 (first-run, DCP)

I passed on seeing The Missing Picture one night this week, overstating in my head how tight a squeeze it would be to get to the theater on time because I wasn't in the mood for it that night. The trouble with that thinking, though, is that one might never truly be in the mood for a documentary about someone's experiences in a Khmer Rouge labor camp, especially during the short window such a film will play theatrically in most cities, even with an Oscar nomination to its name. So, considering that, I went the next day, and was glad I did; if nothing else, the way Rithy Panh chooses to tell his story is quite memorable.

The story itself is horrific, although one that is frequently lost amid history: Director Rithy Panh was living in Phnom Penh, part of a middle-class family, when Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge took the city in 1975. From there his story matches that of many others: Assigned new first names, clothes dyed a uniform black, he and his family are put to work in a camp growing rice without nearly enough food, water, or medicine to make this experiment in a new Kampuchea work. A great many die, with Panh's survival seeming equal parts tenacity and randomness.

Panh has produced, directed, and appeared in plenty of conventional documentaries about those events over the course of his adult life, so this time out he tries something different. There are no on-screen interviews in this movie, just narration spoken by Randal Douc, a stream-of-consciousness ramble that captures the confusion of a child thrown into a strange, dangerous, and quite frankly insane environment, even as an adult sorrow is an important aspect of the tone. Douc's voice is the soundtrack to mostly black-and-white stock footage at times, while at others the screen is filled with hand-carved and painted clay figurines, set up in dioramas to tell Panh's personal story which neither pre-revolutionary stock footage nor propaganda shots of the camp can convey.

Full review at EFC

No comments: