An Intimate, Lived-In Début Feature from Cambodia

Kavich Neang’s “White Building” dramatizes private lives and public conflicts in contemporary Phnom Penh.

Most people have something interesting to say about their home town, their families, the people they grew up with, the issues and the concerns of their friends and neighbors.

That’s the prime way that fiction films converge with documentaries: when directors tell stories that are close to their experience. Even relatively unoriginal filmmakers often make admirable films in this mode, which, above all, requires thoughtful observation, empathetic alertness, and, an even rarer quality among filmmakers, humility—the modesty not to render an everyday drama grandiose with the addition of elements borrowed from genre conventions or spectacular movies.

Yet there’s another, more peculiar form of immodesty that also often spoils realistic movies, especially ones in the international auteur market: willful understatement, conspicuous reticence in the interest of creating artful enigmas, as if caginess were a mark of art.

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