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"The Missing Picture": Filling in the Khmer Rouge's Blanks 

Wednesday, Apr 2 2014
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The Missing Picture is director Rithy Panh's heartbreaking attempt to come to terms with his memories of living through one of the greatest atrocities of the past half-century. Only briefly seen onscreen (and voiced in the narration by Randal Douc), Panh looks back on his childhood in Cambodia before and after it was taken over by Pol Pot in 1975. As was common with 20th century totalitarian regimes, the Khmer Rouge proudly filmed their acts of slavery and genocide, and while much of that celluloid has decayed, Panh fills in those gaps — particularly about his family — with dioramas populated by hundreds of hand-carved clay figures representing both the guerillas and the dehumanized Cambodia. The clay figures are sometimes interwoven into the footage, and what might seem irreverent or woefully adequate actually makes the story all the more horrifying, packing a strong emotional punch. The Missing Picture is a Night and Fog for the Khmer Rouge, down to the measured French narration over black-and-white footage of unspeakable atrocities from recent history. (There is some very graphic footage of inhumanity against both humans and animals.) Panh's re-creations give us the sense that we're looking directly into his memories, and that he may have only survived the ordeal in order to tell this story.

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Sherilyn Connelly

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