Enemies of The People - Movie Review - 2009

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Before escaping from Cambodia in 1979, at age ten, Thet Sambath witnessed the murder of his father, forced marriage of his mother to a Khmer Rouge soldier and disappearance of his eldest brother. In 1998, Sambath, by then a journalist in Phnom Penh, embarked on a personal journey to uncover truths about the genocide in his country under the Khmer Rouge. After years of getting to know former Khmer Rouge soldiers and gaining their trust, Sambath got to meet and interview Nuon Chea, Pol Pot's second in command.

Sambath's quiet demeanor and objectivity make Nuon Chea's shocking revelations all the more heartbreaking.

An Investigative Documentary with Psychological Drama

Taking on the harrowing subject of genocide and political repression that was so successfully dramatized in The Killing Fields, the 1984 narrative feature, Teth Sambath and co-director Rob Lemkin (also credited as the film's writer) document previously unrevealed truths about the heinous deeds of Pol Pot's Khmer Rouge regime.

Teth Sambath, who survived the regime, clearly sees Enemies of The People as a personal mission, and the film has an underlying sense of urgency. Sambath is committed to uncovering the truth, and letting the world know what happened during his childhood, and its residual effects on the Cambodian people. His research is meticulous.

As we see in the film, Sambath is a skillful and patient interviewer, creating confidence and intimacy that allow his subjects to confess. And, little by little, he digs deeper and deeper, pulling the most horrific truths from the reticent Nuon Chea, his principal subject, and from the others he's interviewing.

Nearly two million people were slaughtered by the Khmer Rouge, and their bodies were left to rot in the regime's infamous killing fields. Using archival footage, eye witness interviews and voice over narration, the film delivers graphic, blow by blow coverage of the genocide -- gleaned from people whose culture and personal histories don't make it easy for them to discuss politics or the past.

The Impact of Refined Storytelling

For all of the emotional turmoil the research and interviewing must have brought up in Sambath, the filmmaker remains remarkably neutral and understated in his approach and presentation. He appears in the film as a catalyst for revelation of hard-core, hard-to-come-by truths, but never does he indulge his own feelings. Actually, his refinement in down playing the epic tragedy and evil that are at the core of this documentary heightens the film's impact on you. Enemies of The People will move you to tears, and to contemplate human nature. It's a film that should be included in social studies curricula everywhere.

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Film Details:

  • Title: Enemies of The People
  • Directors: Thet Sambath and Rob Lemkin
  • Release Date: July 30, 2010 (limited)
  • Running Time: 93 mins.
  • Parental Advisory: Content advisory for parents
  • Country: Cambodia
  • Language: English and Cambodian, with English subtitles
  • Company: Old Street Films
  • Distributor: International Film Circuit
  • Trailer
  • Official Website
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