by Annabelle Udo-O’Malley
On April 17, 1975, director Rithy Panh was only 13 years old when the Khmer Rouge turned Cambodia into a murderous experiment in ideology. The agrarian Utopian society envisioned by the Khmer Rouge’s diabolical leader, Pol Pot, resulted in an ethnic cleansing of millions of Cambodians, Vietnamese and Chinese.
As the 39th anniversary approaches since this heinous time in world history occurred, “The Missing Picture” exhumes the memory of Panh whose eyewitness account robustly presents itself through unique visuals and a beautiful narration infused with unhealed pain. Bravely sharing this story with unfathomable poeticism given the incomprehensible and brutal nature of such a tragic event, “The Missing Picture” is not only Panh’s story but is an ode and a testament to those who did not survive.
To tell the story, Panh seamlessly intersperses archival propaganda footage with a diorama of scenes comprised of meticulously sculpted clay figurines that represent happier times of family meals together as well as depicting the horrors of life under the Khmer Rouge.
Winner of the 2013 Un Certain Regard Award at the Cannes Film Festival and Academy Award nominee for Best Foreign Film, “The Missing Picture” masterfully balances tragedy with poetry. The slogans and voices of a slaughtered past remain profoundly alive in detail for Panh and the essence of this film can only be described as he puts it: “To hang on, you must hide within yourself a strength, a memory, an idea that no one can take from you, for if a picture can be stolen, a thought cannot.”
“The Missing Picture” screens as part of CAAMFest on March 14 at Sundance Kabuki Cinemas, 1881 Post Street, San Francisco and March 16 at Pacific Film Archives, 2575 Bancroft Way, Berkeley. Additional shows begin April 4 at Landmark’s Opera Plaza Cinemas, 601 Van Ness, San Francisco and Landmark’s Shattuck Cinemas, 2230 Shattuck Avenue, Berkeley.