REVIEW: The Missing Picture

18 09 2014

The Missing PictureLondon Film Festival, 2013

Rithy Panh’s “The Missing Picture” shares more than a passing resemblance to Joshua Oppenheimer’s “The Act of Killing,” as both use the capabilities of cinema to confront the blood-stained past.  While the latter focuses on the perpetrators of mass murder in Indonesia, the former takes a painful look at the victims of a genocide in Cambodia at the hands of the Khmer Rouge.

Panh is himself a survivor of this brutal attempt at extinction, and “The Missing Picture” transforms his personal story into the political.  Through the use of claymation figures, Panh reconstructs his memories of oppression in a work camp.  These recreations also serve as a rejoinder to the recorded history of the period, which the Khmer Rouge attempted to whitewash with blatantly false propaganda.

The very form of the film is fascinating, although I couldn’t help but feel Panh’s reach exceeded his grasp on occasion.  The intellectual premise just doesn’t feel fully realized in “The Missing Picture.”  It’s not for lack of effort; it’s more for lack of discretion and tight focus.

Yet there’s a haunting power to the narrative that’s impossible to deny.  I knew nothing of the Khmer Rouge’s tyranny before entering the theater, but that hardly impeded the film from affecting me.  Panh makes the film feel searingly real, even though we’re watching patently fake clay figurines and having the story narrated to us by a disembodied, impersonal booming voice.  B2halfstars