First They Killed My Father (2017)
We see news reports on the screen from the 1960s about the United States involvement and bombing of Cambodia in the US war with Vietnam. The US first says that they respect and honor the neutrality of Cambodia. Then America secretly sends bombers to Cambodia to attack Vietnamese forces that were in Cambodia. The news reports talk about the failure of Nixon’s Southeast Asia doctrine, and the Vietnam War rages on; protests in the US mount and a communist faction in Cambodia called the Khmer Rouge is gaining power.
We cut to Loung (Sareum Sirey Moch) watching news reports in her family’s apartment. The news reports talk about how the US is pulling out of Cambodia as its capital is surrounded by the Khmer Rouge forces. The US is abandoning the Embassy and has told its citizens in Cambodia to evacuate. Loung goes out onto the balcony to watch as an American helicopter flies by. Loung’s mother (Sceng Socheata) comes out and tells Loung to get down and get inside. Loung comes inside and begins dancing with her brothers and sisters. It is evident that this is a happy and loving household as everyone is enjoying each other’s company as a couple of older brothers come into the room to join the dance party. Loung’s father (Phoeung Kompheak) enters the apartment and Loung races to hug him. Loung’s dad is a military man and is accompanied by another soldier. The two men, with Loung, go into another room to discuss what is going to happen to Cambodia now that the US has pulled out. Loung’s father dotes on his young daughter, giving her loving attention before going back to discuss matters with the other soldier.
We cut to Loung playing hopscotch in the street with her friends when the people in the street start shouting and celebrating. A tank filled with army men comes by with the crowd reacting gleefully that the Americans have left the country. As one of her brothers gathers her off the street, the Khmer Rouge troops march into the city, taking the government soldiers hostage. Loung’s family begins quickly packing to escape the city, a trip that will test Loung’s faith and love for her family. It’s a journey that not all of her family will survive.
First They Killed My Father is an amazing and touching film about a young girl who under horrible conditions never loses her humanity. Co-writer/director Angelina Jolie brings us a true tale of the unspeakable suffering that the Cambodian people endured under the rule of the Khmer Rouge. This is Jolie’s best work to date and the care and affection she shows on the screen for the people of Cambodia, and Loung Ung (Sareum Srey Moch) in particular, is immense. Jolie has written this film with an emphasis on seeing the journey through the eyes of Loung Ung and our heart breaks throughout the film as she struggles to survive an unjust world. Jolie and her cinematographer, Anthony Dod Mantle, give us plenty to look at, many times from Loung Ung’s viewpoint. At one point in the film, Loung Ung is laying on the floor of the house, looking up at the ceiling that her father is building with palm leaves. Her father looks down and smiles at her before putting in the last bit of the roof. Later in the film, Loung Ung resists the house and looks back up at the ceiling, remembering a better time. This film is filled with small moments like that gives us insight into the characters, making the film full of poignant and sometimes tragic points in the movie. Those scenes show this family’s love for one another and their compassion for each other.
Sareum Srey Moch is dazzling in the role of a little girl who is forced to grow up much too soon, bringing an emotional performance to the screen that is worthy of someone three times her age. She is one of those rare actors who no matter who is in the scene with her, she has instant chemistry with that actor. This chemistry is especially evident in her scenes with Phoeung Kompheak who plays her loving father. Their scenes together are some of the most impressive and emotional pieces in the film.
First They Kill My Father is a remarkable tale of survival, one that is even more phenomenal because it’s a true story. I will warn you that there are several very graphic scenes of people dying in firefights, but that’s Jolie’s intention; war is an ugly, dirty thing and its families that suffer the most during those times. My Rating: Full Price
My movie rating system from Best to Worst: 1). I Would Pay to See it Again 2). Full Price 3). Bargain Matinee 4). Cable 5). You Would Have to Pay Me to See it Again
The film is playing exclusively at Landmark Midtown Art Cinema
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