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Duch, le maître des forges de l'enfer (2011)

Not Rated | | Documentary, History | 18 January 2012 (France)
Between 1975 and 1979, the Khmer Rouge regime caused the death of some 1.8 million people, representing one-quarter of the population of Cambodia. Kaing Guek Eav, better known as Duch, was ... See full summary »

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Between 1975 and 1979, the Khmer Rouge regime caused the death of some 1.8 million people, representing one-quarter of the population of Cambodia. Kaing Guek Eav, better known as Duch, was in charge at M13, a Khmer Rouge-controlled prison, for four years before being appointed by the Angkar ("the Organisation", a faceless and omnipresent entity which reigned unopposed over the destiny of an entire people) to the S21 centre in Phnom Penh. As party secretary, he commanded from 1975 to 1979 the Khmer Rouge killing machine in which at least 12,280 people perished, according to the remaining archives. But how many others disappeared, "crushed and reduced to dust", with no trace of them ever being found? In 2009, Duch became the first leader of the Khmer Rouge organisation to be brought before an international criminal justice court. Rithy Panh records his unadorned words, without any trimmings, in the isolation of a face-to-face encounter. At the same time, he sets it into perspective with... Written by Catherine Dussart Productions

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18 January 2012 (France)  »

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Duch, Master of the Forges of Hell  »

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Tense but intelligent cat-and-mouse interviews and fact checking of the warden of a prison/torture chamber in Phnom Penh under the Khmer Rouge
24 August 2016 | by See all my reviews

A correction to a previous reviewer:

I was following along interested in the review for the first few paragraphs, in which the reviewer correctly noted the complexity, humanity, and even vague charisma of Duch in the film. In this Rithy Panh's work reminded me of François Bizot's book, THE GATE ("Le portail" in French), in which the author too recounts an encounter with Duch, in a different prison, before Rithy Panh met him, indeed before the KR actually took over the country. That Duch too was complex, that Duch was a good comrade in many ways, that Duch had a moral compass.

However, the reviewer then mistakenly attributes the bulk of the suffering of the Cambodian people to American carpet bombing during the KR period. The reviewer even suggests that the plans of the KR may have been beneficial to Cambodians, but that they could not carry them out due to the American bombs.

It is important however to understand how false this is. The Americans did indeed carpet bomb Cambodia relentlessly, but they did so earlier than the KR period, not during it. In fact the US recognized the KR government. According to Ben Kiernan, Kissinger's (and friends') punishment of the Cambodians transformed a meek and slim Communist presence into the highly oiled machine with filled ranks that was the Khmer Rouge. So blame the Americans. But blame the KR as well.

One of the great tensions of this film is that Rithy Panh shows Duch in his humanity, but also the evil that humanity is capable of doing. Unfortunately the bad guys do not always look like vampires; and this makes them all the more terrifying.


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