still stings to be rejected by a lover, even if your country has a painful
history of genocide. These are the “First World” problems faced by Lida, a successful
up-market real estate agent, whose territory encompasses Phnom Penh. Life does
not just carry on for her and her friends. It careens at light speed. A
different sort of Cambodian experience comes to light in American-born-and-based
Steve Chen’s Dream Land (trailer here), which screens
during the 2016 Santa Barbara International Film Festival.
(Da) is good at her job, but maybe she doesn’t even have to be all that
competent. Phenom Penh is booming. To show a luxury condo is to sell it. It
does not hurt that she has a good look either. She would turn most men’s heads,
but since her current lover Kun is a fashion photographer, his constant contact
with beautiful women has apparently made him fickle. He has rarely been around
in recent weeks, but when Lida has seen him, his passive aggressive frostiness
has left her hurt and confused.
will deal with her frustrations in a variety of ways. Some could come straight
out of Sex and the City, but
eventually she tries to recharge with a trip to the ancient Imperial coastal retreat
of Kep. Yet, even there she finds signs of burgeoning development and
super model Lida Duch and her previous co-star Sokun Nhem are apparently quite
popular from the blockbuster Khmer fantasy Sbek
Kong, but local audiences will probably be a tad confused by Chen’s slow
cinema-ish approach. Strictly speaking, it is true not a lot happens, but that
is greatly reflective of real life. Indeed, Chen is very much interested in the
pop songs, romance comic books, and karaoke bars that help the harried modern
Cambodian get through the day. Frankly, that probably makes Dream Land considerably more interesting
for international viewers on the outside looking in, rather than domestic
patrons who are already immersed in this environment.
what really distinguishes the film is Duch’s remarkable performance. It is
quietly reserved work, but powerfully vulnerable and emotionally brittle. She
can say a lot with very little, so the camera just adores her. Frankly, it is
hard to fairly judge Nhem as his near namesake, because what few scenes he has
are so thoroughly stacked against him. Basically, he comes in and acts like a
jerkheel, while Chen keeps him relegated to the far, out-of-focus corner of the
frame. In contrast, Hak Kim is painfully empathic as the mutual friend so
obviously carrying a torch for Lida.
Land is not exactly a milestone
of global cinema, but it is still exciting to see Cambodian film industry
continue to rebuild itself following the almost complete destruction the
country’s cinema heritage under the Communist insanity of the Khmer Rouge. Chen
has already been a part of that effort, working as part of the camera crew on
Davy Chou’s masterful Golden Slumbers.
(Chou in turn served as an associate producer on Dream Land.) At this point, each Cambodian film is still important
as another building block in that effort, but Chen’s film is also significant
for bringing Duch international recognition. Despite the art house pacing, Dream Land has considerable merits.
Recommended for sophisticated patrons, it screens tomorrow (2/8) and Tuesday
(2/9), as part of this year’s Santa Barbara International Film Festival.
Labels: Cambodian Cinema, Davy Chou, Lida Duch, SBIFF '16