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S21: The Khmer Rouge Death Machine (2003)
"S-21, la machine de mort Khmère rouge" (original title)

Unrated  |   |  Documentary, History, War  |  11 February 2004 (France)
7.2
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Ratings: 7.2/10 from 743 users   Metascore: 75/100
Reviews: 13 user | 28 critic | 12 from Metacritic.com

Documentary of the S-21 genocide prison in Phnom Penh with interviews of prisoners and guards. On the search for reasons why this could have happened.

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Cast

Credited cast:
Khieu 'Poev' Ches ...
Himself - Guard
Yeay Cheu ...
Herself - Him Houy's Mother
Nhem En ...
Himself - Photographer (as Nhiem Ein)
Houy Him ...
Himself - Security deputy
Ta Him ...
Himself - Him Houy's Father
Nhieb Ho ...
Himself - Guard
Prakk Kahn ...
Himself - the Torturer
Peng Kry ...
Himself - Driver
Som Meth ...
Himself - Guard
Chum Mey ...
Himself - Survivor
Vann Nath ...
Himself - Survivor
Top Pheap ...
Himself - Interrogator & Typist
Tcheam Seur ...
Himself - Guard
Sours Thi ...
Himself - Head of Registers
Mak Thim ...
Himself - S21 Doctor
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Storyline

In 1975-79, the Khmer Rouge waged a campaign of genocide on Cambodia's population. 1.7 million Cambodians lost their lives to famine and murder as the urban population was forced into the countryside to fulfill the Khmer Rouges' dream of an agrarian utopia. In S21, Panh brings two survivors back to the notorious Tuol Sleng prison (code-named "S21"), now a genocide museum where former Khmer Rouge are employed as guides. Painter Vann Nath confronts his former captors in the converted schoolhouse where he was tortured, though by chance he did not suffer the fate of most of the other 17,000 men, women and children who were taken there, their "crimes" meticulously documented to justify their execution. The ex-Khmer Rouge guards respond to Nath's provocations with excuses, chilling stoicism or apparent remorse as they recount the atrocities they committed at ages as young as 12 years old. To escape torture, the prisoners would confess to anything, and often denounce everyone they knew - ... Written by Sujit R. Varma

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Release Date:

11 February 2004 (France)  »

Also Known As:

S21: The Khmer Rouge Killing Machine  »

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Box Office

Opening Weekend:

$7,302 (USA) (21 May 2004)

Gross:

$21,678 (USA) (20 August 2004)
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User Reviews

 
Interesting Documentary that Needed More Balance
7 September 2003 | by (Hamilton, Ontario Canada) – See all my reviews

I saw this documentary at the Toronto International Film Festival. The film offered powerful testimony from jailers that perpetrated torture and killings. As well, this film elicits the expected emotions from survivors. It was stunning to listen to members of the Khymer Rouge speak so candidly about their inhumanity and also portray themselves as victims that had been simultaneously coerced and indoctrinated into this movement. Very similar to ideas heard in Nazi Germany with the Holocaust and later at the Nuremberg trials. i.e. I was just following orders, I had no choice, or indoctrination similar to fascist propaganda. As powerful as this documentary was, I believe that the extensive testimonies that filled an entire film, limited the effectiveness of the genre. By filling the film with nothing but testimonies, the documentary became repetitive and detracted from the impact it could have had. Jailers acting out the daily routine of checking cells and the lengthy reading of forced admissions of guilt occasionally dulled the impact of other powerful testimony(Sometimes less is more). The director Rithy Panh searched for answers from the jailers, but the standard responses: "i was following orders" etc. would not suffice. He was looking for larger answers on the nature of humanity and what causes people to do such atrocities. The responses from the Khymer Rouge were unacceptable for Panh and he never got the answers that he seemed to need to start the healing process. I believe that more background into the history of Cambodia would have answered some of those questions. No one will ever adequately answer questions on the nature of humanity, but an investigation into the movement would have given many viewers insight into this horrific historical event. At the same time it would have made the testimony more powerful. The barrage of testimony almost made the atrocities seem common. The balancing of information and background with testimony, would have made this all the more powerful. Many people have a limited knowledge of events in Cambodia when compared to Nazi Germany or the Stalinist Purges and yet it is equally disturbing in both scope and sheer evil. I was hoping to be educated and informed whilst being numbed by the inhumanity. For the most part that did not happen. Nevertheless, the documentary is still well done. Much of the testimony is shocking, particularly the mass burials. A film that is well worth two hours of your life to watch, but not for the faint at heart.


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