Most of Cambodian director Rithy Panh’s family were killed in Khmer Rouge labor camps. He was lucky enough to get out and, after months in a Thai refugee camp, move to Paris where he eventually went to film school. His adult years have been spent making innovative, impressionistic documentaries about Cambodia’s terrible years of struggle, mingled with personal memories.
More recently, as with his last film Irradiated, he has launched himself at an increasingly broad canvas showing how shockingly cruel people can be, juxtaposing war footage from numerous conflicts and such familiar signifiers of evil as the Nazi death camps. If you had the temerity to summarize his work so far, you could say that he has spent decades telling us that everything is absolutely not OK.
His new film, Berlin competition entry Everything Will Be OK, begins with a fairytale — illustrated with Panh’s trademark dioramas of clay figurines — of an ogre coming to a village and enslaving both people and animals. The ogre of the story is gradually revealed to be a king-pin wild boar, which has a gold effigy of itself erected in the middle of the defeated kampong. Eventually, that statue will be crowned with a bristling ring of surveillance cameras. “Ideology is an ogre,” reflects the French voiceover, spoken by Rebecca Marder.