What: Funan (Director Denis Do)
Where: GU Film House Adelaide
When: 17 and 21 October 2018
Duration: 86 minutes
(French with English subtitles)
This film tails a family of 8 and their journey whilst enduring the Khmer Rouge regime. Through sketch-like animation and picturesque landscapes of Cambodian countryside it provides an account of what many families would have experienced. I have several friends whose parents fled Cambodia at this time and after listening to their stories, it is astonishing to see their lives represented on screen and the way that their tales deeply resonate with many aspects of this film.
It begins by illustrating their pleasant and peaceful lives in Phnom Penh, and how it is abruptly brought to an end with the threat of bombings and military force. As they journey out of the city with many others, they are slowly stripped of their ‘capitalist’ belongings like their car, jewellery, and clothing.
Early on the young child of the family is lost amongst the chaos of the large crowds. His parents become consumed with trying to reach him at the other camp, but their attempts are constantly foiled by the ‘comrades’.
As time passes, their continued efforts to find their son are brutally rebuffed by their own battle to survive. Trying to get through each day of gruelling labour, poor living conditions, little food, and random killings. We witness their spirits being crushed, and their once large family’s numbers slowly dwindling as they succumb to the pressures and hardships of the camp.
It is difficult to watch this family’s fight for survival and feel their inability to escape, the regime has made them powerless – with no possessions, no-one to turn to, and nowhere to go, running away is futile with a very slim chance of survival. They can either die trying to escape or eventually die at the labour camp, they have become helpless slaves to the regime, and we the audience feel their powerlessness.
Not only do we witness their enslavement, but also the regime’s indifference towards these people through the various atrocities committed against them. We are confronted with torture, rape, brutal punishments, public executions, and being driven to suicide to name a few.
It highlights how the regime masqueraded slavery as working for the greater good of the country, simultaneously undermining the principles of communism with definite pro-democratic undertones. This is particularly poignant when one character questions that if everyone is equal why do they receive so little food and the comrades get to eat luxuriously.
This film occurs over four years (the length of the regime), and stylistically this passage of time was effectively stretched to seem longer than it was, by making the pace of the film incredibly slow moving, it mimics how this family would have experienced the years go by as they endured the monotony and hardships of the labour camps. Making their painful experiences even more evident for the watcher.
– By Rachel Wong