Thursday, August 18, 2005

S21: The Khmer Rouge Killing Machine (2004)

Stark documentary about the Cambodian genocide at the hands of the Khmer Rouge. Director Rithy Panh gathers together a man who survived a spell in the Phnom Penh internment camp (mainly because the people in charge liked his paintings) and several guards who carried out the duties of humiliation, torture and ultimately execution. It's not thirty years removed from the events it describes, and the feeling one gets is a numbness from staring into the void of horror for so many years. The former guards are asked to re-enact their duties, and in doing so they fall into an excited ritualism that undermines the credibility of their "we were just following orders" defense. The question often asked is why things like this can happen, and in the case of Cambodia it appears that a strong, repressive central regime gave horrific orders to soldiers too young (and too thrilled by the prospect of power) to deny them. The film itself repeats itself sometimes, and it isn't edited as tightly as it could be (some of the re-enactments tend to stay on camera past the point of necessity). But as an after-the-fact record of a country's collective madness and resulting psychic wounds, it's worthwhile.

Grade: B


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