War, Camaraderie Feature in Latest Film From Rithy Panh

The artist Leang Seckon often speaks of his fear when bombs fell from the sky in the early 1970s. Just an infant at the time, he nevertheless talks of how he recalls the terror that gripped him, something he expressed in a series of artworks last year.

Rithy Panh’s latest feature film, “Shiiku, The Catch,” captures how terrible it must have been for those farmers, peacefully tending their fields, to see their world suddenly shattered, having to flee for cover as bombs shook the ground and clouds of dust and smoke filled the air.

Mr. Panh’s film, the Cam­bodian premiere of which will be held Thurs­­day during the Cam­bo­dian International Film Fest­ival, starts with archival film foot­age shot from the planes of the US pilots as they dropped bombs on Cam­bodia.

It shows a peaceful countryside of palm trees and modest wooden houses on stilts being obliterated while pilots comment on the success of their mission.

But the story in “Shiiku,” which is set in 1972, is also about the Khmer Rouge and their indoctrination of young children, and the violence that would later turn the country into a vast graveyard.

In the film, a US pilot whose plane is shot down over Cam­bodia is taken prisoner by the Khmer Rouge, who put him under the surveillance of a group of village boys led by a teenager, Pang.

The pilot, played by actor Cyril Guei, is treated poorly at first. And yet, Pang rescues him from drowning with the help of villagers and moves him to another location where he is chained and caged under a house on stilts.

The film manages to reflect the slow pace of a remote village in the Cambodian countryside and at the same time makes the story riveting.

Shots are often striking but never beautiful just for the sake of it. Some scenes are rather spectacular, such as one of boys tracking the pilot in the jungle: It was shot from above, which makes one wonder how Mr. Panh could have managed this in an area so dense with trees.

All actors’ performances are perfectly in character, which is amazing considering the young age of some of the boys.

Mr. Guei and Jhem Chuop—who plays Pang—convey in their interaction the odd mixture of enmity and camaraderie that dev­elops between them—prisoner and young jailer.

The film, whose world premiere took place at the Tokyo International Film Festival in Oc­tober, is based on the Japan­ese classic “Shiiku,” written by Nobel Prize laureate Oe Ken­zaburo, which tells the tale of an Africa-American pilot captured in Japan during Word War II.

“Shiiku” will be shown with English subtitles next Thursday at Legend Cinema and Friday at The Cineplex, and with French subtitles Saturday at the Institut Francais. Admission is free.

 

 

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