Film Shows Artist’s Quest to Depict Pain of Regime’s Victims

The film “Waxing Moon,” set to be shown tonight and over the next few weeks in Phnom Penh, starts on a black screen with a man’s voice saying, “To me, this is a beginning.”

“This place feels like we were born in a desert, that someone would have left us after the war, with nothing, no specific goal, with no one to show us the way…. We make our way, step by step. What’s coming belongs to the future generation.”

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Artist Sera in a scene from the film ‘Waxing Moon’

Then an artist appears in half-light, touching up his latest creation, followed by a close-up of the sculpted face of a man in deep pain on which an artist is working. The camera soon pans out to show artists discussing the cast for the bronze statue.

The 97-minute documentary illustrates some of the trials and tribulations that artist Ing Phousera, known as Sera, encountered while trying to commemorate the Khmer Rouge’s 1975 evacuation of Phnom Penh.

Shot over a year by French filmmaker Adrien Genoudet, the film is also about contemporary Phnom Penh and one of the country’s emerging artists, Nov Cheanick.

Several years ago, the French-Cambodian Sera came up with the idea of a monument to the memory of those who never returned after the city’s evacuation. His Cambodian father was among them.

The monument is now part of the symbolic reparations to Khmer Rouge victims identified during the Khmer Rouge tribunal, and its design, a man in freefall, was presented during a public meeting attended by some survivors and their attorneys in April 2014.

As is shown in the film, a man told Sera at the meeting that his design of a tumbling man “made no sense,” and that it should depict more realistically what happened to Khmer Rouge victims. Also questioning the design, a woman said it should be done in a traditional Cambodian style instead of a contemporary approach.

On the other hand, a woman whose brother was tortured and killed by the Khmer Rouge said, “If this sculpture depicts his pain, then I can understand this memorial.” And a man suggested putting a plaque below the monument to explain the events it commemorates. “Then they will understand that it’s a symbol,” he said.

A Phnom Penh neighborhood alley shown in the film Waxing Moon. e
A Phnom Penh neighborhood alley shown in the film ‘Waxing Moon’

Through all this, Sera remains composed. Later in the film, he is shown working on the bronze sculpture cast at the open-air workshop of artist Kong Bolin in Takeo province, and watching as Mr. Bolin’s specialized team makes adjustments.

This film is also very much about today’s Cambodia, showing the huge celebration held on Pub Street in Siem Reap City on New Year’s Eve in 2014, and families dancing on the Wat Phnom grounds in Phnom Penh during Khmer New Year in 2015.

And it is about two generations connecting as 55-year-old Sera met Mr. Cheanick and his group of 20-something artists in Battambang City. “I liked his work as soon as I met him,” Mr. Cheanick says in the film. “He paints with his hands and feet.”

In the film, Sera, who is a university teacher in Paris, visits Mr. Cheanick’s home/studio—a rather poor hut on the outskirts of Battambang City—where they discuss what’s to be done to complete one of Mr. Cheanick’s work.

“He hopes that, being born in this new generation, I will continue painting,” Mr. Cheanick said.

“He told me I was to take over.”

Comments heard in voice-over throughout the film came from an interview with Mr. Cheanick during the shoot, Mr. Genoudet said.

The 29-year-old filmmaker, who is also a historian studying how history is reflected in films and illustrations, had hoped to end the film with the installation of the monument in Phnom Penh. But that is still pending.

The French Embassy, which supports the project, has been working with the municipal authorities to finalize the details. As Mathilde Teruya, the embassy’s first secretary said on Thursday, “the process is in the works, but I cannot specify a date at this point.”

Presented with a Khmer soundtrack, the film will be shown with either French or English subtitles.


Tonight: 7 p.m., Institut Francais, followed by a Q & A with filmmaker Adrien Genoudet

Sunday: 11 a.m., Bophana Audiovisual Center

Monday: 2 p.m., Legend Meanchey Cinema

April 8 and 22: 2:30 p.m., Institut Francais


Film Festival

The 7th Cambodia International Film Festival, held Saturday through Thursday, presents films from more than 40 countries, many of them released last year.

Highlights of the program include:

– The world premiere of director Amit Dubey’s “Mind Cage,” a psychological thriller set in Cambodia about a Phnom Penh psychiatrist who strongly opposes a rural healer’s harsh treatments for mental illnesses

– The international premiere of “Asian Three-Fold Mirror 2016: Reflection,” in which three reputed Asian directors’ tales of characters journeying between Japan and Cambodia, the Philippines and Malaysia

– “La La Land,” an Academy Awards Best Picture nominee about a struggling actress and musician in Los Angeles

– Several recently released film set in Cambodia, including director Jimmy Henderson’s 2017 “Jail Break” about a gang fight that led to a prison riot; Cambodian director Sok Visal’s 2016 film “Poppy Goes to Hollywood;” French director Davy Chou’s 2016 film “Diamond Island,” mainly set in Phnom Penh; and Cambodian director Sothea Ines’ 2016 film “Love 2 Power 4”

– A series of Laotian films, including Lao director Mattie Do’s 2016 movie “Dearest Sister”

– French films on the theme of love ranging from filmmaker Francois Truffaut’s classic “The Last Metro” with Catherine Deneuve and Gerard Depardieu, to the 2014 movie “The Good Life” about a young man’s first love

– Acclaimed French-Cambodian director Rithy Panh’s documentary “Exile” about a man haunted by his memories of the Khmer Rouge era who seeks to find peace within himself

– A series of documentary films and shorts, as well as a children’s program


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