Subject: Review: First They Killed My Father (2017)
FIRST THEY KILLED MY FATHER
(a film review by Mark R. Leeper)
CAPSULE: This is an epic yet personal story, a memoir
of one very young girl. Loung Ung, who survived in
Cambodia when the violently militant Khmer Rouge
controlled much of the populace. The narrative is
just as vicious and painful as the title suggests it
to be. Angelina Jolie directs from a script by she
herself coauthored with the real Loung Ung. Rating:
+3 (-4 to +4) or 9/10
FIRST THEY KILLED MY FATHER begins with the American armed forces
invading Cambodia in the name of "helping the Cambodians help
themselves" as Richard Nixon put it in documentary footage. The
film quickly jumps to the day that the Americans pulled out of
Southeast Asia, both Vietnam and Cambodia.
There is momentary jubilation in Cambodia that the Americans are
gone but almost immediately the Khmer Rouge, communist guerillas in
red scarves, take control and abolish any private property and
private life. The Khmer Rouge was the Cambodian Communist
guerrilla organization that controlled much of the country and
killed the opposition. In the name of the people they enslaved the
people with murderous unrestrained brutality.
Loung Ung's family loses their home and all their private
possessions. Everything is owned communally but young Loung sees
these things being taken from her family and only the barest
necessities of life coming back. Guns are confiscated and held so
the Khmer Rouge are the only ones armed. Ung's family is driven
from the city, Phnom Penh, to the country side where they are
expected to farm the dry ground if they want to eat. Worse is to
come. We see all this through the eyes of Ung who tells her
memories of life under the rule of the Khmer Rouge. Ung is played
by Sareum Srey Moch behind a passive face that helps to make the
emotion all the more poignant.
The film was made for Netflix Streaming and is already in release.
It is reminiscent of the film BEASTS OF NO NATION of a year ago.
Both are about threats to and hardship of the innocent--
particularly of the young--in times of war. Netflix distributed
both films. Because the film shows the barbarity of the Khmer
Rouge in the lives of the innocent it might also be compared to THE
KILLING FIELDS (1985). The story of THE KILLING FIELDS' Dith Pran
and of this film's Loung Ung start to converge as both use the same
image to inform the character that the ordeal is over. Because the
film is long-ish and covers a lot of geography it gives the film
something of an epic feel.
If the title is foreboding you will find the story no less so,
though the horrors are spread wider but no thinner. I rate FIRST
THEY KILLED MY FATHER a +3 on the -4 to +4 scale or 9/10.
What others are saying:
Mark R. Leeper
Copyright 2017 Mark R. Leeper