J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

MWFF ’14: Scars of Cambodia (short)

For a fifty-some year old fisherman who survived the Maoist Khmer Rouge reign of terror, words cannot adequately describe the tortures he endured. Yet, he is compelled to silently testify, nonetheless. Despite the language barrier, Tut conveys the horrors of his ordeal to filmmaker Alexandre Liebert in the short documentary Scars of Cambodia (trailer here), which screens during the 2014 Montreal World Film Festival.

Tut is a fisherman in the coastal village of Kampot. He is a rugged man of dignity, who was swept up in the genocidal Khmer Rouge machine that killed an estimated twenty-one percent of the nation’s population. The titular “scars” are metaphorical, but Tut also bears plenty of physical kind, still visible decades later.

Arguably, Scars represents a somewhat experimental approach to documentary filmmaking, but it succeeds on its own terms. Tut rarely speaks and Liebert never subtitles him, yet his body language is beyond eloquent. It becomes crystal clear Tut endured beatings, stabbings, electrocution, and that favorite of torturers down through the ages—the old pliers to the finger nails.

Without question, it is an act of courage on Tut’s part just to revisit these ghastly memories. As some consolation for viewers, he now seems to be a respected member of his community. Yet, the audience will be left with numerous unanswered questions, especially considering Tut and his wife are probably old enough to have a large extended family, yet it seems to be just the two of them from what we can glean.

Although conceived as part of a larger prospective web-documentary series and photo exhibit project, Scars ably stands on its own. It probably should not be the first or last film anyone sees on the Khmer Rouge’s socialist madness. Everyone really should initially have it initially spelled out for them. Still, Scars of Cambodia is an unusually powerful manifestation of non-verbal oral history. Highly recommended, it screens Monday (8/25), Tuesday (8/26), and Wednesday (8/27) during this year’s MWFF.

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