In his work as a documentary filmmaker, Cambodian director Rithy Panh has been facing head-on "the evil that men do", and creating a searing, disturbing record of the 1975-1979 Khmer Rouge regime, whose genocidal politics his films have often discussed. For The Missing Picture, though, Mr. Panh moves into a more accessible sphere for the viewer as well as more challenging, by combining elements of documentary, autobiography and essay-film. Here, he puts his own personal experience as a regime survivor front and center of a meditation on the power of the moving image to transform reality and reveal or hide truths.

     The central device in The Missing Picture is the absence of actual footage of the regime, other than the rigidly controlled propaganda images produced by the Khmer Rouge; these, however, cannot render the actual experience of living under fear in a country ripped apart. Since there are no pictures, Mr. Panh creates his own - by shooting elaborate clay-figurine dioramas representing the places and people he knew, both before and after the rise of the Khmer Rouge, interspersed with actual period footage and soundtracked by a moving commentary by writer Christophe Bataille. These recreated images are substitutes for "the missing pictures" of Cambodian history in this period, as well as for those of Mr. Panh himself and of his family, most of which lost in the "killing fields", and ultimately of these "stolen years". But they're also a realisation of how much, in our modern days, history and memory are shaped by the pictures that surround us. That alone would make The Missing Picture a pressing, utterly contemporary piece of work in the way that it questions and affirms the power of the image to hold within itself multiple readings.

     There's more, though. Godardian in the way it engages the moral questions of filmmaking and the value of the image, this is also a chilling portrait of the impossible utopias that so many regimes seem to have in mind but that merely reverse the roles of opressed and opressors, a searing indictment of the tendency to put politics above simple human dignity, a cathartic release of a personal experience turned into a symbol and example of pure human resistance. As affecting as Mr. Panh's previous work but with an added layer of personal involvement that makes it more relatable for the common viewer, The Missing Picture suggests the France-based filmmaker is creating an oeuvre that is in many ways the equal of Claude Lanzmann's groundbreaking work on the Holocaust.

France, Cambodia 2013
96 minutes
Director, screenwriter and designer Rithy Panh; commentary written by Christophe Bataille and narrated by Randal Douc; cinematography Prum Mésa (colour); composer Marc Marder; sculptor Sarith Mang; editors Mr. Panh and Marie-Christine Rougerie; producer Catherine Dussart, Catherine Dussart Production, ARTE France Cinéma and Bophana Production
Screened March 26th 2014 (distributor press screening, Medeia Monumental 4)

Prix Un Certain Regard at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival
Nominated for the 2013 Academy Award for Best Feature Documentary


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