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Laramie Movie Scope:
First They Killed My Father

A personal look at the Cambodian nightmare

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by Robert Roten, Film Critic
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October 31, 2017 – This film shows the horrors of the reign of the Kyhmer Rouge in Cambodia in 1975 from the perspective of a little girl, Loung Ung (who co-wrote the screenplay along with writer-director Angelina Jolie) caught up in the midst of that nightmare. The film is impressive for its intimacy, as well as the scale of events surrounding this story.

The film follows Loung Ung (played by Sreymoch Sareum in this historical biographical drama) and her family fled from their comfortable home in Phnom Penh in April of 1975 until what remains of the family, scattered and decimated, emerges from the ruins of war between Cambodia and Vietnam. The story is based on Loung Ung's book about her experiences, ‘First They Killed My Father: A Daughter of Cambodia Remembers.’

The family, along with most of the people in Phnom Penh, are forced from their homes and driven far into the countryside to work in collective farms by the Kyhmer Rouge in a kind of extreme agrarian style of communism. Loung and her family move from town to town, hiding their true identities. They cannot live with their relatives because the relatives would all be killed by associating with Loung's father (played by Phoeung Kompheak of ‘The Gate’). He is targeted for death because he worked for the old Cambodian government.

After Loung's father is found out and killed by the Kyhmer Rouge, Loung's mother (played by Sveng Socheata of ‘Mind Cage’) tells the rest of the family to scatter to the four winds, and to hide their true identities. Loung ends up in a camp where children are taught to fight, firing machine guns and planting land mines and other traps.

This part of the story is told from Loung's point of view, sometimes using actual point of view cinematography. In other scenes, the camera pulls back to reveal the true scope of this story. We see thousands of people walking across vast agricultural landscapes, or working in vast fields or rice paddies. The camera shows us this isn't just Loung's story. It is the story of millions of people caught up in the same nightmare.

Much of this story is told by such images, aerial shots, point of view, things that Loung sees or hears. There is very little dialog in this movie. Much of it is told through images. There are relatively few movies like this, stories told from a child's perspective. It can be an effective storytelling technique. ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ is a famous example.

One thing that struck me about this film is a scene where all the captives are forced to dye their clothes the same color as everyone else. They are told ‘We are all the same,’ and that wearing fancy clothes makes it look as if some people think they are better than others. This reminded me of arguments people make for making students wear school uniforms in this country. No, we are not all the same, and you cannot make us the same. It is harmful to enforce this kind of collectivism on people.

This is an effective retelling of history from a very specific viewpoint. The acting is very good by all the main characters. I was really impressed by Anthony Dod Mantle's (‘Slumdog Millionaire’ and ‘Rush’) use of cinematography because the camera tells so much of this story. I was also impressed with the vast scale of this film evident in some scenes. This film rates a B.

Click here for links to places to buy or rent this movie in digital formats, or to buy the soundtrack, posters, books, even used videos, games, electronics and lots of other stuff. I suggest you shop at least two of these places before buying anything. Prices seem to vary continuously. For more information on this film, click on this link to The Internet Movie Database. Type in the name of the movie in the search box and press enter. You will be able to find background information on the film, the actors, and links to much more information.

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Copyright 2017 Robert Roten. All rights reserved.
Reproduced with the permission of the copyright holder.
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Robert Roten can be reached via e-mail at my last name at lariat dot org. [Mailer button: image of letter and envelope]

(If you e-mail me with a question about this or any other movie or review, please mention the name of the movie you are asking the question about, otherwise I may have no way of knowing which film you are referring to)