CAPSULE: This is an epic yet personal story, a memoir of one very young girl. Loung Ung, who survived in Cambodia when the violently militant Khmer Rouge controlled much of the populace. The narrative is just as vicious and painful as the title suggests it to be. Angelina Jolie directs from a script by she herself coauthored with the real Loung Ung. Rating: +3 (-4 to +4) or 9/10
FIRST THEY KILLED MY FATHER begins with the American armed forces invading Cambodia in the name of "helping the Cambodians help themselves" as Richard Nixon put it in documentary footage. The film quickly jumps to the day that the Americans pulled out of Southeast Asia, both Vietnam and Cambodia.
There is momentary jubilation in Cambodia that the Americans are gone but almost immediately the Khmer Rouge, communist guerillas in red scarves, take control and abolish any private property and private life. The Khmer Rouge was the Cambodian Communist guerrilla organization that controlled much of the country and killed the opposition. In the name of the people they enslaved the people with murderous unrestrained brutality.
Loung Ung's family loses their home and all their private possessions. Everything is owned communally but young Loung sees these things being taken from her family and only the barest necessities of life coming back. Guns are confiscated and held so the Khmer Rouge are the only ones armed. Ung's family is driven from the city, Phnom Penh, to the country side where they are expected to farm the dry ground if they want to eat. Worse is to come. We see all this through the eyes of Ung who tells her memories of life under the rule of the Khmer Rouge. Ung is played by Sareum Srey Moch behind a passive face that helps to make the emotion all the more poignant.
The film was made for Netflix Streaming and is already in release. It is reminiscent of the film BEASTS OF NO NATION of a year ago. Both are about threats to and hardship of the innocent-- particularly of the young--in times of war. Netflix distributed both films. Because the film shows the barbarity of the Khmer Rouge in the lives of the innocent it might also be compared to THE KILLING FIELDS (1985). The story of THE KILLING FIELDS' Dith Pran and of this film's Loung Ung start to converge as both use the same image to inform the character that the ordeal is over. Because the film is long-ish and covers a lot of geography it gives the film something of an epic feel.
If the title is foreboding you will find the story no less so, though the horrors are spread wider but no thinner. I rate FIRST THEY KILLED MY FATHER a +3 on the -4 to +4 scale or 9/10.
Film Credits: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt4882376/combined
What others are saying: https://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/first_they_killed_my_father
Mark R. Leeper Copyright 2017 Mark R. Leeper