Starring: Randal Douc
Rithy Panh tells the story of his personal traumatic childhood experience of Cambodia’s Khmer Rouge and its horrific regime between 1975 and 1979 in which millions of the country’s residents died, including all of Panh’s family. Narrated by Randal Douc speaking the words of Rithy Panh, the film uses a combination of archival footage and propaganda films of the time, but also predominantly clay models to show what was never filmed or shown to the world.
Films have managed to document many of the atrocities of the 20th century with either real footage or dramatisation, The Act of Killing took a different approach when exploring genocide and was one of last year’s most unique, powerful and best films for it. With very little documented footage of those four years when Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge ruled Cambodia, for The Missing Picture Rithy Panh has taken a very unique approach. In fact the only footage that exists, and some is used in this film, is propaganda to give a completely inaccurate account of life under this regime and when seeing this in the context of the film is all the more sinister for it.
The idea of using clay figures of what he personally experienced is without a doubt a brave choice; it does risk distancing the viewer from really engaging with a tale of what must have been a living hell. At times it does feel that Panh struggles to fill the running time, with maybe little sense of clear narrative structure and occasionally things do get a little repetitive. However, there is no denying the sheer power and honest intentions of the film. The innocent clay figures evoke enough powerful imagery, and sometimes having to fill in the blanks for yourself can make the imagery all the more powerful and disturbing for it.
Adding to the raw power of this film is Panh’s vivid narration (voiced by Randal Douc), sometimes poetic and sometimes matter of fact, his words bridge the gap and make the whole experience all the more moving. The Missing Picture serves as a reminder as to how powerful film can be as a medium and that it allows people like Rithy Panh to tell their stories which really put life into context and remind people like me how lucky I am to live in a relatively stable and safe Western Democracy.
Made with passion and authenticity, The Missing Picture may have flaws from a technical point of view, but it is an undoubtedly haunting and moving experience that thoroughly deserved its Oscar nomination.