In the past semester, I completed my research on the development of Communism in Cuba and began to study the Cambodian Communist Revolution. Within the Cuba unit, I have had opportunities to understand the impact of the Cuban Revolution on various parties involved: Cuban-Americans, local Cubans, and the U.S. government. My analyses from reference articles, an interview, and a documentary helped me construct my own understanding of the revolution. Similarly, I have gathered information on the Khmer Rouge Movement in Cambodian from reading newspapers published during the revolution, statistical reports on the development of the Cambodian economy, examining case studies of the Cambodian education system, and viewing the last interview with Pol Pot.
In this semester, I aim to finish learning about Cambodia’s communist development and continue exploring through various perspectives across media in the remaining units.
This blog post will discuss my review on the documentary The Missing Picture and conclude the Cambodia unit with some final reflections.
I was introduced to The Missing Picture last year when talking to Teacher Pat about my research. Different from all documentaries I have watched in the past, The Missing Picture was lustrated by clay figures, miniature models, historical music soundtracks, and archive film footages. The film is narrated in the first person by the director, Rithy Panh, who strive to reveal the hidden tales of his family under the Khmer Rouge Movement. Panh was forced to leave with his family and relocate to a labor camp on the 17th of April, 1975. Confronted with starvation, demanding physical labor, pressure from the unattainable quotas, and no access to advanced medical care, Panh suffered through extreme hunger and lost both of his parents in the early stage of the revolution. He later managed to escape to Thailand in 1979, when was right before the Khmer Rouge collapsed. Pranh eventually settled in France and received training as a carpenter (Rohter).
The most memorable aspect of the movie would be Panh’s narrative on how the movement shaped Cambodian children under that tragic era. Panh shared that children’s mindsets were deeply distorted in re-education camps at night on the work sites. “Words change meaning.. (0:44:29)” Panh points out, explaining that Pol Pot changed the language into slogans and subversively altered the system of authority within families. For example, a 9-year-old boy accused his mother of stealing mangos, yelling: “The comrade has recognized her crime (00:45:31)!” This detail lingered with me as I viewed the whole film. It is heartbroken to learn that children were manipulated to become key components contributing to the arbitrary atrocities of the movement. In fact, due to the lack of maturity and discipline in the young generation, a great number of labor camps ran by children became notorious for inflicting harsh violence and cruel measures to inmates, who were majorly adults. I also learned that because of this manipulation of children, even after the fall of the Khmer Rouge, many Cambodians still remained fearful of children (“Open”).
In addition, I was touched by Panh’s description of his childhood dreams. Being constrained to work at labor camps, Panh has often dreamed of his backyard back in Phnom Penh where his family gathered for festivals, of his uncle who loved the guitar and disappeared the beautiful dancers and actors on stage, and of the foreign world beyond Cambodia. When Mission Apollo 11 was launched, Panh shared his fascination with the moon and admiration for the explorers that made a great leap for mankind (00:28:06). It is indeed Panh’s own narration of his longings, hopes, and a sharply-contrasting reality that endows personalities to the flat, static clay figures displayed throughout the film and convince the audience with authenticity.
Another important theme of The Missing Picture is the quest for the lost. Panh dedicates the opening scene of the movie to close shots of dusted film stored in a room similar to an abandoned garage. It was not until later in the film that I realized its significance. These disorganized, rusty, and fainted scrolls denoting the reality of the Khmer Rouge were victims of Pol Pot’s revolution as well. Because of the propaganda and the government’s distortion, these footages were often swept under the carpet. Panh explained later in an interview that he feels obliged to “transmit, not the horror, but the dignity and humanity of the people who died (Bradshaw).” Pranh further confesses that as one of the few survivors, he burdens a responsibility to be the messenger and help others to remember the lost lives.
I also agree with Pranh’s other reason about making this film that there is an underlying universality to the Cambodian genocide. It is also our, the younger generation’s aim to shed light on the lost history and preserve them in our current society. I therefore decided to focus this second semester’s research more on examining the forgotten and hidden stories.
Bradshaw, Nick. “Memories of murder: Rithy Panh on The Missing Picture.” Bfi.org.uk, 2019 British Film Institute, 5 June 2017, http://www.bfi.org.uk/news-opinion/sight-sound-magazine/interviews/memories-murder-rithy-panh-missing-picture. Accessed 3 Feb. 2019.
“Open.edu.” The Open University, ©1999-2018, http://www.open.edu/openlearn/society-politics-law/children-and-violence-introductory-international-and-interdisciplinary-approach/content-section-4.3.2. Accessed 3 Feb. 2019.
Rithy, Panh, Catherine Dussart, Christophe Bataille, Randal Douc, Jean-Baptiste Phou, Mésa Prum, Marc Marder, Marie-Christine Rougerie, and Letitia Farris-Toussaint. The Missing Picture. , 2013.
Rohter, Larry. “Rithy Panh on ‘The Missing Picture’ and Living with Tragedy.” The New York Times, 2017 The New York Times Company, 13 Dec. 2013, carpetbagger.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/12/13/rithy-panh-on-the-missing-picture-and-living-with-tragedy/?_php=true&_type=blogs&_r=0. Accessed 3 Feb. 2019.
Rithy, Panh, Catherine Dussart, Christophe Bataille, Randal Douc, Jean-Baptiste Phou, Mésa Prum, Marc Marder, Marie-Christine Rougerie, and Letitia Farris-Toussaint. The Missing Picture. , 2014.