Title: First They Killed My Father
Director: Angelina Jolie
Starring: Sareum Srey Moch, Phoeung Kompak, Sveng Socheata
Runtime: 2 Hours 16 Minutes
What It Is: It’s the 1970’s as we follow the Ung family as they dance around their comfortable apartment but in the background, we see newscasts about the rise of the communist party Khmer Rouge who look to reclaim and rebuild Cambodia following the U.S. bombings. As the U.S. leaves, the Khmer Rouge are circling ever closer and we soon see the family torn apart by war and a childhood lost forever.
What We Think: I really went in expecting to love this film as I had watched an interview with Jolie and Ung (the film is based on her memoir) in which they talked about the filming process and it sounded promising. However, I felt that crucial information such as the Khmer Rouge’s tactics are only ever given in snippets of overheard conversations or radio broadcasts and the audience are left to infer what is going on. You could argue that this would have been the case for young Ung as well and we’re meant to be seeing things from her perspective but if you didn’t know the story this could be confusing for some.
Since the film is seen through Ung’s eyes we don’t really get a sense of the broader implications the Khmer Rouge’s regime had on Cambodia such as how soldiers mutilated statues at Angkor Wat and riddled the countryside with landmines some of which are still being discovered today by the way! Instead, the film feels slow paced and often repetitive which I am told is a big contrast to the memoir on which it is based. Even though the basic premise of the film is to see the horrors of war through the lens of a child’s eyes I felt it could have benefited from a narrator or an internal monologue to propel the story forward.
Our Grade: C, Overall even though this is Jolie’s best film to date I felt it lacked so much context which I felt really hid a lot of what actually took place during this bleak period. I understand that she placed the camera carefully so we’re only ever seeing things from the perspective of young Ung (Sareum) and this although technically competent really unbalanced the film because I was waiting for the more powerful scenes which sadly never came.