A uniquely subjective account of the Cambodian genocide of the 1970s, “The Missing Picture” is the work of Rithy Panh, a Cambodian native who left his homeland when he was an adolescent.
He witnessed the government’s executions of his family, as they were hauled off to labor camps or otherwise disposed of. Using old, revealing propaganda films and more recent footage, Panh mixes archival images with nonanimated clay figurines that represent the victims of Khmer Rouge leader Pol Pot.
As Panh paints these tiny figures and arranges them in groups and crowds in various dreamlike landscapes, he approaches a sense of spectacle that underlines how the brutal Khmer Rouge decimated the cities, destroyed the culture and took over the country.
“It all starts with purity and ends with hate,” explains Panh, who sees through the regime’s scrubbed images of tractors and rice-planting. “A Khmer Rouge film is always a slogan.”
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This stylized approach is a long way from the realism of “The Killing Fields” (1984), which starred another Khmer Rouge survivor, the late Haing S. Ngor. But the impact is similar. It’s Panh’s insistence on sharing his experiences, as well as his wish “to be rid of them,” that makes the film so compelling.
Since his 2003 debut, “S21, The Khmer Rouge Killing Machine,” Panh has become a kind of conscience of Cambodian film. Covering much of this material in a book, “The Elimination,” cowritten with Christophe Bataille, he offers a picture that’s been missing since the end of Pol Pot’s regime.
Note: “The Missing Picture” was nominated for an Oscar for best foreign-language film (it was originally in French and lost to the Italian film “The Great Beauty”), but it is playing here in an English-language version narrated by Jean-Baptiste Phou.
John Hartl: email@example.com