First They Killed My Father (2017)
Cast: Sareum Srey Moch, Phoeung Kompheak, Sveng Socheata
Director: Angelina Jolie
Rated: TV-MA for depicting genocide theme and crimes of war
It is actually quite surprising to note that a lot of people aren’t aware of this bitter history of Cambodia. Those who haven’t seen this movie should look up Wikipedia to know about the “Khmer Rouge”. This regime ruled Cambodia for four years from 1975 to 1979. The horrors that the Cambodian citizens witnessed during those years is unparalleled in history. People were forced out of their homes and jobs and were made to live in an agrarian society under poverty ridden conditions. The regime hardly provided the citizens enough meals and kept them starved. It is estimated that around 3 million Cambodians died in the genocide that followed under their rule. How the world could turn a blind eye to such happenings is beyond my comprehension.
What is more surprising is that Hollywood has made only one film on this subject prior to this movie. Kudos to Anjelina Jolie for making a film on this subject. She has made this film with a lot of sensitivity. You don’t really see a lot of on screen violence or gore which are symptomatic with all films of the genre. The beauty of her direction is that you will always feel an underlying terror as to what might happen next.
This movie is based on Long Ung’s memoirs as a child soldier during the Khmer Rouge regime. The story is told through the eyes of a five year old child who is trying to make sense of what is happening all around her. There is hardly any voiceover to explain what’s happening but somehow it works well in telling the story from a child’s perspective. The movie does an excellent job in building tension and delivering near the end. Some of the scenes (like the minefield scene) are not for the faint-hearted and will stay with you right till the end.
The screenplay of the movie is slow but gripping. The main strength of the movie lies in conveying the story through scenes with hardly any dialogue. The cinematography is excellent and the filmmakers have judiciously used the cranes/ drones to give us some spectacular views. What also works for the movie is that there are only Indonesian actors in this film. It is thankfully bereft of any Hollywood styled theme.
The movie successfully depicts the authoritarian mindset of people that borders on political madness, an ideology akin to German Nazism. This film hurts the soul. The movie is ultimately an impassioned plea for unity, understanding and empathy. It tries and eventually succeeds in asking us to remember the past. This gem of a movie is an underlying testament to the indomitable human spirit. My verdict for this movie is a generous 9 out of 10.
You can also check out my reviews and recommendations of other films in the Movies page.