Eskape review – moving tale of a refugee’s dangerous journey out of Cambodia

Film-maker Neary Adeline Hay retraces her mother’s escape from her homeland in this poignant family history and memory piece.

With echoes of her sublime debut Angkar, which grappled with the horrors of the Pol Pot regime through her father’s perspective as he returned to Cambodia after a 40-year absence, Neary Adeline Hay’s new documentary is a moving companion piece. Taking on the slippery nature of memory, Eskape revisits the dangerous journey taken by her mother, Thany Lieng, who fled Cambodia for France. As Hay retraces Thany’s footsteps, footage from her trip is entwined with her mother’s recollections, creating a rich and poignant tapestry of familial history.

While Hay’s presence in Angkar took the form of a voiceover, in Eskape the camera often lingers on her from behind, as she gazes at the various places once passed by her mother – suggesting that Hay is simultaneously a part of and distanced from this history. As a baby, she was with Thany as they made the perilous trek to Khao-I-Dang, a refugee camp known as the “hill of death” on the border of Cambodia and Thailand. Hay’s memories only begin, however, when her family finally arrived in the south of France. A reluctant Thany recounts her ordeal in matter-of-fact and practical details. Compared to Hay, who yearns to learn more about her origins, Thany has the mindset of a survivor and is reluctant to disturb the ghosts of the past.

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