Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBB. Cambodia/USA, 2017. Netflix, Bophana Production. Screenplay by Loung Ung, Angelina Jolie, based on the book by Loung Ung. Cinematography by Anthony Dod Mantle. Produced by Angelina Jolie, Rithy Panh, Ted Sarandos, Michael Vieira. Music by Marco Beltrami. Production Design by Tom Brown. Costume Design by Ellen Mirojnick. Film Editing by Xavier Box, Patricia Rommel. Golden Globe Awards 2017. Toronto International Film Festival 2017.
The autobiography of human rights activist Loung Ung is the basis of this moving melodrama, in which we see Cambodia’s turbulent years of war and dictatorship from a child’s perspective. Following the Cambodian Campaign, which saw the U.S. bombing the country before withdrawing from the country and clearing out its embassy, Ung’s father, who works as officer for the dissolving government, tries to keep his family together as the Khmer Rouge approach. Ung’s family are sent to a labour camp to be liberated from their bourgeois trappings, an eye-opening experience for a little girl used to a much more comfortable middle-class life, and the tragedies only spiral out of control as time passes, Vietnam invades and the children become part of the terrifying experience of the Killing Fields. Director Angelina Jolie elicits terrific performances from the entire cast and, unlike Roland Joffe’s (admittedly much better) film on a similar subject, allows Cambodian citizens to be the focus of the story instead of filtering the tale through a foreign narrator. That said, she also doesn’t get to know her characters very well and they often come off as little more than symbols of tragic oppression to be situated within the beautiful frames composed by cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle. The film’s generous running time (a common problem with the original features produced by Netflix) is at odds with an urgent tale that deserves a tighter pace.