Director Rithy Panh (S21: The Khmer Rouge Killing Machine) won the Un Certain Regard prize at this year’s Cannes Film Festival for this startlingly original work, which uses handmade clay figurines and detailed dioramas to recount the ravages that Pol Pot’s regime visited upon the people of Cambodia following the communist victory in 1975.
The Missing Picture
Cambodian-born director Rithy Panh has spent the last two decades creating a body of work of immeasurable historical importance. In films such as S21: The Khmer Rouge Killing Machine and Duch, Master of the Forges of Hell — both of which screened at the Festival — Panh established himself as the world's premiere cinematic chronicler of the horror and strangeness of life under the Khmer Rouge. With The Missing Picture, which took home the Un Certain Regard prize at Cannes this year, Panh offers his most autobiographical and eerily beautiful film on the subject, this time exploring the suffering his own family endured after the Khmer Rouge entered Panh's hometown of Phnom Penh.
Pol Pot's communist regime overtook the Cambodian capital on April 17, 1975. Panh was eleven years old. Citizens were rounded up and sent to agricultural labour camps. With the ostensible purpose of eliminating class divisions, all personal effects were confiscated. Numbers replaced individuals. Torture and executions were undertaken for the slightest infraction of party law. Rations were perpetually depleting, people were forced to drink mud — it was a regime built on deprivation and fear.
Panh's desire to document this period was problematized by the fact that all the extant visual material is sheer Khmer Rouge propaganda. His solution to this paucity of evidence was to visualize events through the use of clay figurines inhabiting detailed dioramas. Inspired and provocative, the handmade scenes of camp life are complemented by an eloquent, embittered voice-over and Marc Marder's haunting score for strings and flute.
"I seek my childhood, like a missing picture,"
Panh says of his search for archival
footage of his youth. With this remarkable
memoir of atrocity and transcendence,
Panh has transformed that hopeless
search into an opportunity for creative and