To anybody that doesn’t know a thing about the Cambodian genocide carried under the Khmer Rouge, this movie is an absolute essential. Shot in a way that blends both art-house and documentary styles, the film captures the horrors of the Campuchea regime through the eyes of the five-year-old Loung Ung.
Watching this film made me nostalgic about my 2019 Cambodia trip and reminded me of how it felt to realize we learn so little about the world in our school history books. At least a two million Cambodians are believed to have died during the years Khmer Rouge ruled the nation.
‘First They Killed My Father’ starts with a beautiful montage of a happy wealthy family of a military officer. He has about seven children (if I counted right), Loung Ung being the second youngest. That same day, members of the communist party of Campuchea storm the streets of Phnom Penh and force everybody into evacuating the city.
The Khmer Rouge wanted to establish some sort of an agrarian utopia, devoid of technology. Doctors were forced to give up their modern medicines. Intellectuals and anybody who worked for the toppled government was murdered in the cold-blood. And all Cambodians were whip-lashed into doing hard farm work without any tools. Even children were made to work in the labour camps to earn less than a fistful of rice on their plate.
Until the credits rolled in, I didn’t realize it was directed by Angelina Jolie. She and her team have however done a brilliant job of portraying the brutalities innocent Cambodians endured during that dark period in their history. Jolie has co-written the script with Loung Ung, who had written a memoir by the same name. So the movie is based on true events.
Now to the cons – the film has a lot of unnecessary still shots of characters where they are not emoting at all. It’s hard to understand if some of the actors are trying to emote a sort of despair where you can’t feel a thing, or if they just cannot act.
The film demands a lot of patience in the viewer due to its slow pace. I saw it over three days and did not fast-forward anything. While I think it’s a damn good film, it’s not for everybody.