Wednesday, September 20, 2017

First They Killed My Father: A Daughter of Cambodia Remembers

I had no idea that this was a Netflix production before their logo popped up before the film and thus had me a little surprised it was playing theaters at all. I suspect it's gone from Kendall Square on Friday, either because it doesn't draw when a lot of people can see it as part of their subscription package or because the release was a heavily-subsidized stab at awards consideration. Whatever the case, I've heard (and participated in) a lot less outcry over this only having a small theatrical footprint than Okja just a few months ago, and I wonder if it's a matter of my being in the wrong circles and the art-house crowd is just as annoyed as the genre crowd was, or if we just get tired about yelling about the same things again and again.

I do kind of suspect this loses a bit playing at home versus the theater. In the review I talk about how the wide overhead shots go from making the exodus from Phnom Penh look big to making the individual people look small, and I suspect that's something the cinematographer and visual effects guys have to be pretty precise with - the average person in those shots being a few pixels wider jumps him or her from being an anonymous entity to an individual human for the audience, but I suspect that threshold is different on the big screen than on the smaller one. Maybe not, and maybe they're primarily composing for video anyway, what with Netflix putting up the money and the monitors both on-set and at the FX house not being twenty feet wide.

Speaking of theaters, it looks like Kendall Square is pretty much done its renovation, and so far, it doesn't feel a whole lot different - the lobby has basically replaced the spot with the baked goods with a bar space, and video screens have replaced the manual signage. So far, mostly harmless, so long as they don't go in for animating them too much. The hallway has gotten a little too low-key, perhaps - no posters next to the doors or signs above, just a fairly low-key numeral. I initially walked past the auditorium, and I've been in those rooms a lot. Inside, I noticed that the seats had been upgraded, though the rows were much closer together than the surprisingly sparse arrangement in theater #9, enough so that though they reclined, the foot-rest didn't extend. Still fairly comfortable, at least.

The marquee outside is still kind of a mess, but maybe they won't be cleaning that up until the rest of the work around the area is done. It'd be nice if the thing most visible from the street made a nicer impression, but it's certainly the part of the theater that has the least impact on it beating the heck out of my living room.

First They Killed My Father: A Daughter of Cambodia Remembers

* * * (out of four)
Seen 17 August 2017 in Landmark Kendall Square #2 (first-run, DCP)

It's a bit surprising to me that First They Killed My Father: A Daughter of Cambodia Remembers didn't have its name cut in half during the transition from page to screen, and not just because it may look unwieldy on a VOD menu (let alone a marquee in the small number of theaters that are booking a Netflix original). That title implies adult reflection, while the film is almost entirely devoted to the child's point of view. That's often a source of its power, although it sometimes denies the film some of the clarity director Angelina Jolie looks to find elsewhere.

It opens in April 1975, when Loung Ung (Sareum Srey Moch) was six or seven, the second-youngest of six siblings whose father (Phoeung Kompheak) works for the government - or at least, until the Khmer Rouge takes over and they, like everyone else, are forced to flee Phnom Penh. The father is canny enough to hide his identity as the family eventually winds up in one of the camps where the KR is trying to rebuild the country on communist ideals, but there's no end to the danger and cruelty to be found in post-revolution Kampuchea.

Jolie and the real-life Loung Ung collaborated on the screenplay (from Ung's book), and mostly keeping this a kid's-eye-view account has its pluses and minuses. It's important to note, for instance, that Jolie bookends the film with more documentary-style bits that highlight America's contributions to the rise of this regime, and while that's an important subject, it's not what the rest of the film is about. There's a majesty to the final shot that emphasizes that the Khmer Rouge's reign of terror was, though destructive, an aberration, and that point of view seems like a bit of an afterthought within the film itself.

Full review on EFC.

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