The Missing Picture

2013 [FRENCH]


IMDb Rating 7.4 10 3227

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Movie Reviews

Reviewed by howard.schumann 8 / 10

A testament of unbounded courage

Philosopher Albert Camus said, "Good intentions may do as much harm as malevolence if they lack understanding." Indeed, we have seen many examples in history of how ideology, no matter how well intentioned, can lead to disastrous consequences if not tempered with compassion and respect for the rights of the individual. We saw it in Nazi Germany and in the Soviet Union during the Stalin era. There is no more blatant example of the distorted use of ideology than in the 1975 takeover of Cambodia (renamed as the Democratic Republic of Kampuchea) by the Khmer Rouge under the leadership of Pol Pot (aka Saloth Sar).

While the goal of the Khmer Rouge was to promote an agrarian socialist economy and eradicate any remaining traces of individuality, their process of forced labor and communal living led to the death of millions of people and when they fled in 1979, they left behind a trail of tears. Only thirteen-years-old at the time, Director Rithy Panh, lost his entire family in Cambodia during those years and has documented his experience in The Missing Picture, winner of the Un Certain Regard award at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival. It is a deeply moving film that uses hand-carved clay figures sculpted by Sarith Mang together with archival news footage and propaganda films used by the Khmer Rouge to paint an overwhelming picture of man's inhumanity to man.

Although the sadness etched on the faces of the painted clay figures moving on doll-house sets are somewhat distancing and can only give us a vague idea of the amount of suffering that took place, Panh's affectingly poetic voice-over helps us to bridge that gap by offering the perspective of one who lived through those years. In their four years in control of Cambodia, the Khmer Rouge destroyed food sources outside of centralized control, forbade fishing and the planting of mountain rice, abolished medicine and hospitals, and refused offers of humanitarian aid. Now 50, Panh says that making the film has helped him to come to terms with his memories, reflecting that, "in the middle of life, childhood returns—sweet and bitter." While the film's historical perspective is limited, it gives us a sense of the vibrant life of Phnom Penh before the Khmer Rouge arrived to evacuate the city, uprooting and exiling millions of families to re-educate them in labor camps. Those not needed were told, "To keep you is no benefit, to destroy you is no loss." Those forced to leave were told that the evacuation was meant to protect them from American bombs and they would be able to return to their homes in a few days. Panh refers to the U.S. bombing of Cambodia during the Vietnam War as a factor that persuaded Cambodians to look for an alternative to their current political system but he does not attempt in any way to justify the actions of Pol Pot.

The Missing Picture, while grim and perhaps repetitive, is a powerful prayer that no child ever has to again witness what Panh saw: his family forced from a home filled with music and literature, his father going on a hunger strike and dying from starvation and illness; the execution of children who were forced to denounce their parents; sitting on the cold ground night after night watching propaganda films displaying happy faces while outside thousands starved. Under the leadership of Pol Pot, an estimated 2.2 million people died from execution, illness, or starvation, a tragedy that left a legacy of suffering that continues until the present day. Miraculously, Panh survived to tell his story and in The Missing Picture, has left us a testament of unbounded courage.

Reviewed by aaskillz69 8 / 10

Fabulous Documentary. Ranks among 2013's best.

"It's not a picture of loved ones i seek, i want to touch them, their voices are missing, so i wont tell. I want to leave it all, leave my language, my country in vain and my childhood returns. Now it's the boy who seeks me out, i see him, he wants to speak to me but words are hard to find." -Randal Douc

I think i first heard of The Missing Picture more than a year ago when it premiered at Cannes and got out of there with the Un Certain Regard Award. The early buzz was good but the film did not stay with me and it was quickly forgotten until it's name came as a surprise in Academy Award Nominations that gave the film a nomination at the Best Foreign Picture. Then i check out the film again and realized that it had gotten great reviews overall and the film entered my watchlist but only seven months after that event was able actually able to see it. I was now still curious but not exactly excited to see it.

The Missing Picture is Directed by Rithy Panh, "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 and insignificant? So I created it. What I give you today is neither the picture nor the search for a unique image, but the picture of a quest: the quest that cinema allows."

As said i was interested but not exactly excited to finally see this, i felt like it was more of an obligation since it had received great praise and even an Academy Award Nomination. Well i got to say that i'm a foll because i was completely overwhelmed by this film, it's a shame that it have only seen it now and a shame that most people have not yet seen and are likely to never see this wonderful little movie.

It's funny because i had heard from the film for so long but i went in knowing absolutely nothing, i had no idea what it was about, i had heard that it was an unusual kind of documentary, but the film was not nominated for that category so i was a bit confused. The film is indeed a documentary that follows the life experience of a man who lived under the Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia from 1975 to 1979. So after gaining independence and fighting the Vietnam War and a Civil War the Cambodian people went through a lot more they went through the Communist Regime, where the slogan are everyone is equal and those who complaint are enemies, where ignorance and hunger are kings. The Cambodian holocaust went through four years of enslavement and working fields that killed over 2.500.000. people. You probably didn't know that right? Me neither.

The film certainly as a moving, touchy subject but only having an important subject doesn't make a good documentary, it's direction sure is important and here the direction is certainly unorthodox and the results are nothing short of outstanding. Documentary does feature live action images of the working fields but most of the film's narrative and storytelling is done through clay figures. Yes clay figures are used to dramatize the horrifying images that the director as a child saw and experienced. The results, are nothing of amazing, this could have gone real goofy, or maybe it would have been impossible to us audience to make a connection with the story if it's being told by clay figures but non of that is true. Weirdly or not we are able to connect and relate to the clay figures and the film is able to be emotionally wrecking and have an enormous deal of power even if through those little pieces.

Never in a million years would i have thought that those little figures would have moved me in the way they did, they are quite disturbing too, the faces of the figures, very expressive at times it was like the fear, the hunger it became palpable, it's amazing. This is also due to the documentaries fantastic direction that reminded me of Hiroshima Mon Amour, it's poetic, breathtaking.

The Missing Picture is an amazingly underseen picture, last years best documentary(yes better than The Act of Killing) and by the way why was this not nominated for that category. Well continuing...if you have the chance see it and you won't be disappointed, it's emotionally shattering, it's unusual, innovative, poignant and overall an extremely well made documentary that is among last years best.

Rating: A-

Reviewed by StevePulaski 9 / 10

Coloring in the omitted lines

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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