The lowest grossing film in Australia in 2014. It only made approximately $3,500. See more »
For many years, I have been looking for the missing picture: a photograph taken between 1975 and 1979 by the Khmer Rouge when they ruled over Cambodia... On its own, of course, an image cannot prove mass murder, but it gives us cause for thought, prompts us to meditate, to record History. I searched for it vainly in the archives, in old papers, in the country villages of Cambodia. Today I know: this image must be missing. I was not really looking for it; would it not be obscene ...
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Cambodia's 2013 entry to the Best Foreign Film category of the 85th Academy Awards, The Missing Picture, concerns a dark topic of history you probably didn't learn about in your high school world history/global connections course. Or perhaps you did learn about it but it quickly escaped your mind, like many other pieces of information. It concerns the tragedy of the Khmer Rouge uprising in 1970's Cambodia, and such a tragedy has never been explored quite like it has been in this particular film.
A reading program I was forced to use my freshman year in high school hard an entire unit devoted to the Khmer Rouge and the events surrounding a time of unimaginable darkness for a country many, including myself, know tragically little about. I, admittedly, likely couldn't point to the country on a map. The unit was my personal favorite, as it talked about a journalist by the name of Dith Pran, who found himself victim to the merciless "Killing Fields" that the Khmer Rouge set up during this violent uprising. However, The Missing Picture documents a much more personal story than the highly-publicized Pran story, and instead, focuses on a filmmaker's tragic experience with the event in a style that is highly meditative and deeply fascinating.
It was April 17, 1975 that the Khmer Rouge, a communist regime, seized the capital of Cambodia, Phnom Penh. From that day forward, thirteen-year-old Rithy Panh would never be the same, with him, his parents, his relatives, neighbors, and villagers all being led into internment camps, stripped of their belongings and personal possession to be clothed in black cloaks and given a number that would serve as their identity. They endured this abusive and crippling hell for four years, many of them dying or being killed in the process.
Thirty-nine years later, Panh has found the courage and strength to create a surprisingly artful picture that literally paints vivid dioramas and ideas as to what endured under the Khmer Rouge regime, led by Pol Pot, an active member of the communist party. Panh employs the use of rare and haunting archival footage, providing the idea for life under Khmer Rouge better than present-day interviews ever could, but Panh's original technique comes in the form of impeccably detailed clay dioramas that provide us with an almost contradictory whimsy to such horrific events.
Panh also shows himself painstakingly constructing these unique little clay figures, even getting emotional as he constructs clay figures that represent his deceased parents. He paints them with the lovely imperfections of real humans in terms of color, but paints them with unfathomable accuracy in terms of facial structure and torso-build.
What is even more unfathomable is how Panh updates these figures little-by-little overtime, having their ribcages protrude out more, their facial features begin to wither, as well as showing their stomachs enlarge due to the horribly inadequate conditions the Khmer Rouge bestowed upon the communities, and this attention to detail, combined with the absolutely original and unique presentation qualities for a documentary make The Missing Picture a beautifully made film in the visual department.
If there's one detractor, it's Panh's narration, which can best be described as monotone and occasionally droning. When the subject matter fits, however, the voice can work to compliment what is going on in the film, but there are times when the film could use a bit more excitement or even identifiable emotion, especially when Panh begins to talk about the alternative routes, good and bad, that could've also happened to Cambodia in the 1970's. When the narration becomes distracting, I found myself sinking out of the exposition and into the visuals or archival footage, which leads me to say this film is much more a visual/audio trip than anything else.
Yet this shouldn't distract too heavily from the great qualities The Missing Picture provides us, be them visually or narratively, as it tells us a story many of us haven't heard from a perspective we never quiet expected.
Directed by: Rithy Panh.
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