The Missing Picture

WRITTEN BY: Rithy Panh, Christophe Bataille
STARRING: Randal Douc as the narrator
RATING: 3.5 stars

It is amazing how so much emotion can be drawn from a film that tells its harrowing true story through clay figurines. Assisted by narration and some archival footage – which is basically just propaganda clips – Rithy Panh recreates the devastating cruelty that Cambodia's Khmer Rouge committed between 1975 and 1979. This is a survival story, but unlike most documentaries, it does not use a raft of primary sources to depict its story. Instead, it relies on Panh's recreations to show what those propaganda films do not.

The Missing Picture begins with the Khmer Rouge taking power in 1975. The rural communists were the descendants of the “Old People" while the “New People” were intellectuals, professionals and anyone who lived in cities. As a child, Rithy Panh and his family were removed from Phnom Penh and placed in a labour camp where they were forced to dig ditches and farm all day. Many died from the tough conditions, including hunger and sickness.

At times, the film is quite confronting to watch, such as a scene in which a brainwashed child aids in having his mother killed for hiding mangoes. The entire scene is depicted with the clay figurines and yet it is filled with heartbreaking emotion. The storytelling throughout the film is assisted by some powerful and insightful narration. It is no wonder the Cambodian/French film was nominated for an Oscar.

Panh's message is simple: no one should ever have to witness such atrocities, but if they do, they must share their story, and that is exactly what he has done.