In this post, we will recommend the best of the movies that will allow you to learn more about Cambodia. It is good to understand the history, culture and what makes Cambodia as it is today.
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Let’s start our recommendations:
1. The Killing Fields – 1984
It’s one of the best Cambodian movies that shows the most relevant of what happened in Cambodia between 1975-1979. It tells the true story of Cambodian journalist Dith Pran and American Sydney Schanberg.
The Killing Fields was released in 1984 and won 3 Oscars and 24 awards. It was filmed in Thailand, Canada, and the US. No scene of the film was in Cambodia. I guess it is due to the difficulty in entering into Cambodia and requesting permission to film locally.
It will be a very difficult moment to watch. But if you want to know the dark side of Cambodian history, this one is the best. But be prepared to recover yourself from the past.
I hope it will not make you scare of Cambodia. It’s a history. It happened. But it ended completely. Cambodia today is different.
We have stability in politic, economic and smiling people. We are on our way to building our future.
2. Don’t Think I’ve Forgotten: Cambodia’s Lost Rock and Roll – 2015
Before the war, Cambodian music reached its top level. Even today, modern songs can’t compete with the golden classic songs. We still listen to the voice of Sinn Sisamouth and Ros Serey Sothea.
Unfortunately, they were all killed in Khmer Rouge regime.
“Don’t Think I’ve Forgotten” has a lot of footage we rarely seen. It will surprise you how glory Cambodian music was. Compared to other movies that talk only about genocide, this documentary will give you something new.
The collection postal albums are impressive. I believe it took a lot of time to make this movie and it deserves to be listed here.
Let’s go back to the glory days before the war:
3. Apocalypse Now – 1979
This is not really a movie that focuses on Cambodia. I decided to list it amount Cambodian movies because it can give you a sense of how war and politic destroyed the country.
I watched the movie while I was studying in Paris. It reminded me of my childhood. My father used to bring us to Phnom Penh by a machine boat. I used to spend a lot of my time watching the landscape along the Mekong river.
Apocalypse Now is a masterpiece by famous filmmaker Francis Ford Coppola. It became a classic of all generations in the film industry.
You have to watch it.
The movie tells the story of a mission to terminate an American commander who escaped into Cambodia. They need to go up to the river from Saigon to Phnom Penh.
It will help you to understand also the madness of the Vietnam war:
4. The Missing Picture – 2014
It’s the first Cambodian movie that won the Oscars award. Mr. Rithy Panh, the filmmaker, worked so many years to make movies on genocide. His ambition is to record what happened in the past to tell and show to the new generations.
He also co-founded Bophana center where people can find image and sound archives related to Cambodia.
The Missing Picture is his latest work related to Khmer rouge.
During 1975-1979, people are killed. Everything was destroyed. We learned what happened from listening to our parents and family. We read books.
To reconstruct the images, we might hire acting people. Mr. Rithy Panh created clay figures to tell the story. It’s an art of telling the story.
5. A River Changes Course – 2013
This documentary will keep you update on what’s happening in the country. It will put you away from the killing fields for a while.
A River Changes Course follows 3 ordinary people who struggle to adapt their lives according to the change of the country.
The movie was directed by Kalyanee Mam, who was born in Cambodia and was immigrated to the US along with her family after the fall of the Khmer Rouge regime.
She came to the country in 1998 and couldn’t detach herself from the beauty of country and people.
6. Enemies of the People – 2010
It’s a fascinating movie. Thet Sambath is a Cambodian journalist. Each weekend, he traveled to meet Nuon Chea, the brother No. 2 of Khmer Rouge. It took him 5 years before one of the most influence Khmer Rouge leaders allowed him to ask any question.
Besides meeting Nuon Chea, Sambath met other few people who used to kill people during the Khmer Rouge regime. Sambath finally makes those people confessed their crime and tell the truth.
All Sambath wanted to know if the truth. He wanted to understand why there were killing. He used his own expenses for this project.
Later he met Rob Lemkin, a filmmaker from the UK, who later on co-directed and produced the movie.
It’s a 10 years film project. It is a very brave and rare achievement. Highly recommended.
Enemies of the People is a remarkable personal journey of a journalist. The movie won Sundance Film Festival World Jury Special Prize and many other awards.
7. S21 The Khmer Rouge Killing Machine – 2003
You didn’t imagine that you could put survivors from S21, the Khmer Rouge prison, to talk face to face with the guardians and the interrogators of the prison.
The achievement of making this movie cannot happen again. It is unique and unintentional from the director himself. But it was possible.
In the beginning, he wanted to film separately the scenes. This is to avoid the victims and the captors meet face to face. We can’t imagine what will happen.
It is a rare experience.
It was difficult to rebuild the images and show exactly what was happening. But we can understand through their conversation and re-visit to the prison many times.
8. Brother Number One – 2015
This movie will conclude the Khmer Rouge, genocide and dark past of Cambodia. The documentary follows Rob Hamill who was invited by Khmer Rouge tribunal to give the victim’s statement for his brother.
Khmer Rouge tribunal is an international court, established to find justice for the victims in Khmer Rouge regime between 1975-1979.
In 2012, Duch, the chief of S21 was sentenced to life imprisonment by the court.
At the time of writing this, the Khmer Rouge tribunal still continues to the case N. 2 which to accuse 2 top leaders Khmer rouge Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan.
9. Comfortably Lost – 2013
We will complete the list with a movie that doesn’t talk about Khmer Rouge at all. It is a story of a young photographer who decided to come to Cambodia for a short escape.
He discovered some unexpected events but mostly he enjoyed his first visit to the country. It is a road film. It will not make you get anything but to relax and enjoy the moment.
I wish to see more Cambodian movies that talk about the present and daily life. We should be able to create a bigger story and explore our culture to the world.
10. City of Ghost – 2002
City of Ghost is the first Hollywood movie that was filmed in Cambodia and Thailand. It has a great cast joined by James Caan, Gérard Depardieu, Natascha McElhone, and Stellan Skarsgård.
The story is a bit confusing. It’s about a man journey who come to Cambodia to collect some cash. If you can ignore the story and just see how Cambodia was filmed for the very first time, it is not too bad.
They turned an abandoned French building into a hotel, trained a real Cambodian cyclo driver into a film star. They even trained a monkey to appear in the movie as well.