Searing Cambodian Genocide Film Grips US Audiences

Posted October 3rd, 2012 at 8:50 pm (UTC-5)
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A groundbreaking Cambodian film depicting the life of a woman who lost most of her family four decades ago in the genocidal reign of the Khmer Rouge is touring the United States and stirring profound reflection and grief in Khmer-speaking audiences.

“Lost Loves,” co-written by Chhay Bora and his actress wife Kauv Sotheary, is the first feature film on the genocide by an all-Cambodian cast and crew in more than two decades. Based on the life of Chhay Bora's mother-in-law, the film focuses on the repeated loss of her loved ones, as some two million people perish under Khmer Rouge rule between 1975 and 1979.

Chhay Bora, speaking last week after a presentation in Philadelphia, described the film to VOA as a labor of love and suffering.

“All this pain and suffering, we can not keep them inside and carry the burdens with us to the ground,” he said. “I had to make this movie to recount our bitter memories and to share the suffering and history with the next generation.”

Shot in the Cambodian countryside, “Lost Loves” is described by critics as a collision of striking beauty and ghastly acts of brutality under Khmer Rouge rule. In its aftermath, Cambodians at home and abroad have by most accounts been slow to come to grips with the genocide.

The $150,000 film was screened at Philadelphia's Horace Howard Furness High School as part of a 12-city American tour that ends this week in California. School principal Daniel Peou describes the film's value to families scarred by the horrors of the genocide.

“I've seen some Cambodian children and parents who don't talk at all,” he said. The kids say their parents don't understand them. They don't know what their parents have gone through. If they see this movie, they'll know how much suffering their parents went through and what their parents had to sacrifice for them.”

The movie, which opened at a four-day film festival in Phnom Penh in late 2010, has been uniformly praised by American audiences at university screenings. At the University of Connecticut, a reviewer wrote last month that the film left spectators “speechless.”

In Long Beach, California, Cambodian performer PraCh Ly, who helped sponsor the film in the Los Angeles area, called the film “groundbreaking.”

The Cambodian Oscar Selection Committee voted unanimously last month to submit “Lost Loves” to the Academy Awards for best foreign-language film.