Mar 202014

It’s hard to know where to start with The Missing Picture, an incredibly unique film which tells a very personal story of the Khmer Rogue and the atrocities they committed between 1975 and 1979. This film portrays such an awful piece of history in an incredibly moving way. My review of the Oscar nominated The Missing Picture after the jump.

Since seeing this film, I’ve struggled to find the words to describe it. I was floored by the unique way in which this film was constructed, and shocked by the pain and suffering which was experienced. Before seeing the film, I had some understanding of the Khmer Rogue and the horror they inflicted; however The Missing Picture  put faces, personal stories and an incredibly human touch to an unbelievably bleak piece of recent history.

Using hand-crafted clay models, the film dramtises the events in Cambodia when Pol Pot and the Khmer Rogue came to power in 1974. It is told from the perspective of one young man (director, Rithy Panh) who was living in Phnom Penhn with his family at the time. They, along with millions of others were herded from the city and forced into labour camps by the regime. We follow Rithy Panhy and his family to the camps and we witness the young man’s fight for survival in the most unthinkably awful situation. Other media such as sound-clips (voices, traffic noises, nature etc), a sparse number of photographs and Khmer Rogue propaganda videos are used to tell the story alongside the clay model dramatisations, creating a film with an incredibly rich texture and depth.

The absence of comprehension – this is the missing picture. From this time, it is mostly only documentation and video footage from the Khmer Rogue which survives. This material depicts a thriving country, one who is grateful for Pol Pot – it is pure propaganda. The mass graves, the starving children, the desperation, the pain – this is not shown. In using the clay models and sound-clips, actor Randal Douc narrates a story which attempts in some way to fill in the gaps left by the missing picture. At times I was moved to tears by the heart-breaking story, while at other times the often lyrical and philosophical narration was hard to access. The poetic language used in the narration was quite beautiful, but I sometimes struggled to understand what message (or feeling) it was trying to get across.

This is not an easy film to watch, but it is an important one. I admire Rithy Panh for making such a personal film, a beautiful and extremely brave work.
By Sam McCosh

The Facts

Director: Rithy Panh
Writer(s): Rithy Panh
Starring: Randal Douc (narration)
Runtime: 92 minutes
Release date: Australia: March 20 2014