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Enemies of the People (Cambodia)

If there is one film that could indict the genocide-killers of the Pol Pot regime in Cambodia, who are currently being 'tried' under an International Tribunal ,which has already taken several years and cost nearly $ 150 million, it is this one.

What's astonishing is that it has not been seen or used by the Tribunal as evidence, judging by the statements of some of the members of the Tribunal, who addressed the media ,at the FCCT in Bangkok recently. 

The film is especially important,as 'Case No 2'-  that of  Pol Pot's right-hand man, Nuon Chea- will  come up shortly.

In the film, Cambodian journalist Thet Sambath, who lost his family during the Khymer Rouge killings,  works his way through  years of hard work,to meet, interact, talk at length, with Nuon Chea,and build up a tentative friendship with him.

The result is unbelievable- 'Brother No 2' (as Nuon Chea was called,as he was next in command only to Pol Pot) gives details of the systematic killings of  thousands of  individuals. Why ? Simply becaue he considered  them 'enemies of the people.'

 The strength of the film lies in its quiet tone and under-played style,which makes the words of the Khymer Rouge killer even more searing and sensational.

 What's shocking is to see the Nazi-like faith and strength with which he asserts that he did it all,because  he believed that it was  for the 'good' of his country.

Sambath's aim, in befriending the man who was responsible for the death of his family, was to 'understand' his mentality- and he succeeds ,even if the results are painful and shocking.

In his quest for more 'truth', the Cambodian journalist  goes to the provinces- and meets more 'killers'. Sitting under a dark sky and crackling fire, with alcohol in hand, they not only confess to numerous killings, but also to ' eating' their victims, as they believed that would  'stengthen' them!

 One of the most rivetting scenes in the film, is when Sambath tells Nuon Chea, at the end of the film, that his own family were victims of the Khymer Rouge massacre. The 74-year-old,beady-eyed man looks glazed,and offers a weak apology.

 The last scene of the film is one of the few to have a high sense of drama,a clever move by director Rob Lemkin . Here,we see the Khymer Rouge leader being removed from his provincial home, and led to a waiting helicopter.

He is being taken to Phnom Peng, for the  all-important 'Trial.' 

After interacting with Nuon Cheah for the whole length of the film,the audience, and possibly Thet Sambath, feel a tiny-  just a tiny- twinge of pity.

 To quote Sambath " In daring to confess, they have done good."

 In daring to confess, Nuon Chea however, deserves to be punished for his dastardly killings. But judging by the extremely slow  way the Tribunal  has been working, one wonders when this will ever happen.

 They confessed,in Bangkok, that it was a very tough,complicated process. They had to first understand the limited legal machinery of the country (especially during the Pol Pot regime), go through hundreds of documents in a very difficult language which needed to be translated, and most important, deal with old, geriatic 'accused' individuals.

 Nuon Cheah,infact, has persistentluy refused to be 'tried',pleading old age and weak health.

 He may look weak , but his words in 'Enemies of the people' ,proves he has the courage of his convictions even now - the convictions of a mass murderer.

 If there is one film that can offer the most damning of evidence,in the most important of Trials in Cambodia, it is this one.

One simply wonders why it has not been made available to the Tribunal, and why it has not been  released in the country.

 The film has been to many festivals of the world,starting with Sundance,where it won a Special Jury prize.

It shoud be shown at many more festivals.

This is cinema of a rare,historical kind.












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I'm an Indian film-writer, based in Bangkok, and write for publications in India & Thailand. I also coordinate and curate film programs in the two countries, at cultural centres/clubs, film festivals.



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