We followed up our Korean action/procedural/thriller with this simply animated story of the Khmer Rouge and—have you ever noticed that there are no Khmer Rouge apologists? Like, people (actively online) make excuses for the mass murdering champions of human history, the USSR and China, they make excuses for Cuba, they’ve forgotten Venezuela as much as they can, but you still find a few people saying the US (or the Jews, always the Jews) are responsible for Venezuela’s current situation, and yet nobody ever says “Well, the Khmer Rouge’s heart was in the right place.” I mean, The Killing Fields won three Oscars back in 1984 and starred reliable leftist Sam Waterston—but none of that bears on the merits of socialism, apparently, nor the wisdom of withdrawing from Vietnam.
Be that as it may, this reminded The Boy and I of The Missing Picture, the 2013 documentary where a man relates the horrors he experienced under the Khmer Rouge through wooden carvings. This film, from France, tells the story of a middle-class family—which has its troubles but ultimately food and work and family and a place to live—that is driven from the city, ostensibly due to some evil invading force but really just to round everyone up for slaves on the communal farms. (Hey,it worked for Stalin, right?)
The story is that our protagonists lose their young son in the migration, and the mother (Berenice Bejo, The Artist) is determined to be reunited with him (often putting unreasonable demands on her husband and others). As members of their family (and a few friends they manage to keep) fall victim to the brutality of socialism, and the mother continues to be rebuked by her overlords with (“How dare you think you can do a better job than the state at raising your child?”, which is an all-too-common refrain in “free” countries today). Ultimately they look to escape to Thailand, which is a journey fraught with peril, and with no certain safety once they get there.
There’s not a lot to say here really: The movie does a better job, perhaps, than The Missing Picture (which was from the perspective of a young child) at showing the humanity of those who were swept up in Communism. (For all their murderous cruelty, they were still human.) As such, there are a more moments of subversive heroism where people caught up in the system realize, “What have we done, O Lord?” And for all that, they are never able to reverse it. You can vote totalitarianism in but you can’t vote it out.
It’s good. It’s worth seeing. Much like The Missing Picture, the medium mitigates some of the horror, which makes the movie more watchable and is, I think, fine if you’re not considering it a full historical picture. Still, it wasn’t a fun ride, even if it is a necessary one.