Panh was thirteen years old when the Khmer Rouge took power and brought his middle class life in Phnom Penh to an end, literally from one day to the next. He lost his entire family in the ensuing Holocaust but managed, miraculously, to survive himself and, when the Khmer Rouge fell, to move to France. Over the past couple of decades, he has made a series of landmark films on the experience of Cambodians during those years. These include two quietly powerful and unforgettable earlier works on S-21 itself, one of them a long, intimate series of interviews with the man known as Comrade Duch who was the prison’s commandant and supervised the grim work that took place there.Share
In a way Panh has all along been presenting Cambodia’s missing picture, struggling to remember, reminding his audiences, which, until now, have been mostly in France (his films are made in French), of the savage absurdity of the Khmer Rouge’s radical experiment in utopian social engineering. But The Missing Picture marks a departure from his earlier work. Until now, Panh has allowed the testimony of the witnesses that appear in his film, their memories, their explanations, justifications, excuses, and admissions of criminal conduct, to carry his story. There is no narration, no explanation, no effort to put the rise of the Khmer Rouge into a broader historical setting—the Vietnam War, the American bombing, the sharp contrasts of wealth and poverty that gave the Khmer Rouge much of its early following.
His new documentary is without interviews, without the intrusive camera and magnified close-ups of victims and perpetrators alike that he has used in the past. Unlike his earlier work, this new film provides explanatory narration, written by Panh, that offers both memories of his own experiences under the regime and terse, aphoristic observations on the nature and the meaning of it all. (Read more.)