New Film Takes Hard Look at Practice of Arranged Marriages

The newest release from local production company Khmer Mekong Films starts with a scene of a young man lying in bed, staring at the ceiling.

Turning toward the camera, he says, “Today could be the end of my life.”

Yim Sambath, left, and Chan Sophanika in a scene from 'Day in the Country.' (Khmer Mekong Films)
Yim Sambath, left, and Chan Sophanika in a scene from ‘Day in the Country.’ (Khmer Mekong Films)

“Day in the Country,” tells the story of Sovann (Sambath Yim), who is reluctantly taking the first step toward an arranged marriage. He is about to meet the family of Chantha, a young woman who Sovann’s aunt believes will be the perfect wife for him.

For the two families—Sovann’s, which owns supermarkets in Phnom Penh, and Chantha’s, with a seafood factory in the countryside—it seems like a perfect business alliance. But the 26-year-old man plans to derail the process. As he confides to the audience, he has no intention of marrying Chantha.

Chantha (Chan Sophanika) simply wants to make sure that Sovann has “a good heart.” When she and Sovann are given a mo-ment on their own during the family meeting, she tells him that, above all, she wants their relationship to be based around trust. “No lies,” she says, adding that love may come later.

By the time they leave Chantha’s family home, Sovann has changed his mind and wants to marry her. But Chantha does not say whether she would like to meet him again, and the two families say goodbye awaiting her decision.

The 55-minute movie, which manages to convey the issues at stake for Chantha and Sovann while remaining light in tone, was well received by media students at Pannasastra University in Phnom Penh, who served as the first test audience on Saturday.

“I believe it will touch people’s hearts, and especially young Cambodians like us, because this movie is about decisions and the decision of both the girl and the boy,” said student Chork Vicchai.

Arranged marriage remains a common practice in Cambodia, with people viewing it as a way to improve their situation in life, or as a means of developing business or government contacts that might otherwise be out of reach, said Kosal Ratanak, another student. “Everyone wants a good life,” he said.

As Ms. Sophanika, who portrays Chantha in the film, explained, some parents may feel they know their sons and daughters so well that they can find the right spouse for them. But they may not understand the challenges young couples face in today’s world, which is why they should allow their children to have a say in the matter, she added.

Khmer Mekong Films producer Matthew Robinson, a former BBC executive, wrote the script for “Day in the Country.” He said he had strived to avoid taking sides on the issue of arranged marriages.

“We don’t set out to completely answer the question whether arranged marriages are a good thing or a bad thing,” he said. “We’re just hoping to get people thinking about it, talking about it, discussing with their parents, among themselves, with their girlfriends and boyfriends: That’s really the aim of the movie.”

“Day in the Country” will be shown at Meta House in Phnom Penh on March 29.

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