Jolie im­bues Cam­bo­dia drama with skill, in­tel­li­gence

El Dorado News-Times - - Fun & Games -

By now, there should be no de­bat­ing that An­gelina Jolie is a tal­ented di­rec­tor, ca­pa­ble of han­dling the most chal­leng­ing sub­ject mat­ter with as­sur­ance and sen­si­tiv­ity. Those who con­tinue to den­i­grate her skills be­cause she's also a movie star and tabloid fix­ture are run­ning out of am­mu­ni­tion.

There also should be no de­bat­ing the value of a ma­jor film be­ing made about the Cam­bo­dian geno­cide un­der the Kh­mer Rouge — a film shot in Cam­bo­dia, and in the Kh­mer lan­guage, to boot. Or that with­out Jolie's com­mit­ment and clout, "First They Killed My Fa­ther: A Daugh­ter of Cam­bo­dia Re­mem­bers" would never have been made.

This story of a young girl's ex­pe­ri­ences un­der the mur­der­ous regime, based on the mem­oir by Loung Ung, is close to Jolie for many rea­sons: She's had a strong con­nec­tion to the coun­try since she filmed a movie there in 2000. She adopted her el­dest son there (Mad­dox is listed as an ex­ec­u­tive pro­ducer), started a foun­da­tion there, even re­ceived cit­i­zen­ship there, and is a friend of the au­thor. All this means that she is ex­tremely fa­mil­iar with Cam­bo­dia and its story, and this is both the movie's great strength and its oc­ca­sional weak­ness.

Why weak­ness? Be­cause the film pre­sup­poses a knowl­edge of the his­tory that many in a broad main­stream au­di­ence — par­tic­u­larly young peo­ple — likely lack. And that dis­tance from the story blunts its power some­what. Sim­ply put, a lit­tle more guid­ance at the right places — we don't want to call it hand-hold­ing — might have been in or­der.

There's an­other sto­ry­telling chal­lenge here. Jolie, who co-wrote the screen­play with Ung, is aim­ing to tell the story through the eyes of a child, aged 5 to 9. As Jolie her­self has said, "a child ex­pe­ri­ences more than she talks." It's true that there's not a lot of di­a­logue here, and that for the movie's two-plus hours, we're learn­ing — and grow­ing — along with Loung. There may be mo­ments where we're im­pa­tient for an­swers, but the film asks that we wait, and learn them when and if Loung does.

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