Khmer-Language Film Wins Jury Award at Venice Festival

A dark love story shot in Cambodia and starring two non-professional Khmer actors picked up a Special Jury award at the prestigious Venice Film Festival in Italy on Sunday night, where it was entered in the cutting-edge Horizons category.

“Ruin,” written and directed by Aus­tralians Amiel Courtin-Wilson and Michael Cody and co-produced by Kulikar Sotho from Phnom Penh-based production house Hanuman Films, is a hypnotic yet hard-hitting road movie that follows two teenagers as they try to escape their fraught lives in contemporary Cambodia.

“[It] is an observational, minimal portrait of post-traumatic intimacy…a transcendent story of companionship and love,” according to Hanuman Films’ website.

“Ruin,” which critics have said is a beautiful but brutal exploration of first love amid the constraints of poverty and the echoes of Cambodia’s traumatic past, provoked a few walkouts during its screening.

After receiving the award, co-director Mr. Cody said walkouts were a common practice on the busy festival circuit, and were not re­flective of the favorable reception the film has had.

“Our feedback has actually been universally positive. There were a few walkouts but I’m yet to go to a screening that hasn’t—and who knows why? People have places to be. There’s no doubt there’s a great buzz on the film here,” Mr. Cody was quoted as saying in the Australian online screen-trade journal If.

In the film, first-time actress Sang Malen plays Sovanna, a young prostitute who flees her violent pimp in the provinces to Phnom Penh, where she meets Phirun, played by Rous Mony, a disaffected 19-year-old local factory worker in need of a break.

Critics have compared the mythical, metaphysical road narrative that ensues to the work of legendary director Terence Malick who directed the 1973 classic “Badlands.”

The movie was filmed over three weeks on a shoestring budget, with many of the crew working for free under Melbourne filmmaking collective Flood Projects.

“I guess [it was a question of] sincerity, just trying to be open to what’s going on and allowing real things to happen and real people to behave in real ways—we did want a sense of reference to [Cambodia’s] history, but we wanted it to be oblique,” Mr. Cody told the Sydney Morning Herald.

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