Review: ‘White Building’ bids beautifully sad farewell to a vanishing Phnom Penh

Demolition is a state of mind in “White Building,” Cambodian filmmaker Kavich Neang’s sad, beautiful feature debut, an urban elegy about what’s thick in the air when the home one has always known is not long for the world. In this case, an iconic low-income housing complex in Phnom Penh that had outlasted Khmer Rouge purges when government workers lived there, and in later disrepair became a haven for artists, but which wasn’t cut out to survive the 21st century pace of modern city gentrification.

Even if you didn’t know Neang grew up in this historic location, which the filmmaker captured in its last days for a 2019 documentary (“Last Night I Saw You Smiling”), something intensely personal emanates from his doleful tale of a teenage boy named Samnang (Piseth Chhun) coming to grips with the displacement of his family, the limits of tradition, and a turning point for his sense of self.

Kind-eyed and ambitious, young Samnang is a hip-hop dancer in a performing trio with his best pals and building mates Ah Kha (Chinnaro Soem), a handsome brooder, and easygoing Tol (Sovann Tho). Readying themselves for an upcoming competition, they make the most of a pulsating Phnom Penh nightlife to dance for donations, marvel at the city’s colors, sounds and mouthwatering aromas, and talk girls and dreams.

In full:

Related Stories

Latest News