Cambodia, 1975; after the Khmer Rouge take over the country and impose a crushingly strict Communist regime, 7-year-old Loung Ung (Sareum Srey Moch) and her family are among the many displaced. No one can question Angelina Jolie’s commitment as a humanitarian with a special interest in Cambodia, but that doesn’t automatically make her a great director of this heartfelt, reality-based story. However, she’s done an amazing job, employing a documentary-like approach, but not without tension and (thanks to the cinematography) a somewhat lyrical yet grounded childhood perspective. It’s a largely successful balancing act, with good performances. A scene in a minefield is particularly harrowing.
2017-U.S.-Cambodia. 136 min. Color. Produced by Angelina Jolie, Rithy Panh, Ted Sarandos, Michael Vieira. Directed by Angelina Jolie. Screenplay: Angelina Jolie, Loung Ung. Book: Loung Ung. Cinematography: Anthony Dod Mantle. Cast: Sareum Srey Moch (Loung Ung), Phoeung Kompheak (Pa Ung), Sveng Socheata (Ma Ung), Mun Kimhak, Heng Dara.
Trivia: Co-executive produced by Ung and Jolie’s 16-year-old son, Maddox Jolie-Pitt. Panh previously made several documentaries about the Khmer Rouge crimes against the Cambodian people.
Last word: “We also talked about the country being a character. That’s why the drone shots were important. It wasn’t just because it was big and beautiful, it was because the country was a prison. It wasn’t one place with walls, it was the country. So to show that and masses of people moving, the entire country uprooted, the sheer scale – we wanted to be very intimate with [Loung Ung], but then very inclusive of the entire country.” (Jolie, Variety)