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The Missing Picture

The Missing Picture (2013) directed by Rithy Panh

Rithy Panh was 13 when the Khmer Rouge reached his home city of Phnom Penh in 1975. Cambodia became the Democratic Republic of Kampuchea. Under the leadership of Pol Pot they proceeded to empty the cities and drive the population into the countryside to work in agriculture. They commenced on a drive thoughout the 70s to destroy this ancient culture, its books, films, music and artifacts. They stopped all education and executed anyone perceived as being 'intellectual' , anyone opposing them, anyone of a different race or culture - artists, teachers, engineers, doctors, writers, journalists. Anyone who stood up to be counted.

"Whoever protests is an enemy
Whoever opposes is a corpse"

Rithy Pahn lost his family to famine and disease and although he survived his memories are very strong. Cambodia has little in the way of film or photos of that devastating time, hence the title of his film.

He's made a haunting record of those atrocious years by making clay figures and setting them in various tableau just as if they were the missing photos. He's unearthed precious scratched and damaged film and superimposed the figures on top creating his own personal history. His figures are deliberately carved and painted and set in static scenes, the very stillness frozen in sadness. As the film goes forward Pahn carves out the ribs and faces of the models as they starve to death. His own father turns his face to the wall refusing any more to eat animal feed and gradually fades away. As the people turn to eating insects, rats, roots and seeds the deft hands of the carver takes more clay away.

" the sick who do not obey are not fed - hunger is a weapon"

Specially moving are the scenes from pre-Khmer Rouge where Pahn has recreated his own house on a day when all the family are celebrating and the house is full of children and adults and singing and dancing. What a contrast to the black clothed wraiths dying in the countryside

This documentary is the sobering memories of one man and his family. Just one family amongst an estimated two million deaths under Pol Pot's regime. It's an unusual and effective film narrated in a quiet gentle voice which adds even more contrast to what's unveiled on screen.
The sound is effective too using distorted propaganda chanting, atonal and traditional music.

the little clay figures are and unconventional way of telling history, but very powerful.