Blessed with the direction of Angelina Jolie, First They Killed My Father is a fine war movie. The story is through the eyes of a seven-year-old girl. It’s based on Loung Ung’s memoir about her experiences when the Khmer Rouge took over Cambodia in 1975. This was a violent campaign that wiped out almost a quarter of the Cambodian population.
At the start, the rebels storm the Cambodian capital looking for people to kill or throw into camps. Loung’s family face a crisis: they can’t show any hint they’re on the side of the opposition. Loung’s father pretends to be a normal labourer. He must forget he had any involvement with the US-backed government.
Imagine your once-comfortable life becoming torn apart in a matter of minutes. It’s not something any of us want to think about, but it’s what happens to the family. They’re taken away and forced to work in a labour camp. While there, Loung and other children grow food and treated with cruelty. The point of the physical work is to make these people feel ashamed as if they deserve the punishment.
Violence is at a restrained level in this historical document. The chaos is still there for sure, but it never goes overboard with the blood and gore. It’s about the trauma and the effects of the brutality that is all around Loung on a daily basis. But what elevates the film is the way it honours Cambodia, its people and its history. First They Killed My Father makes it clear that this is a story of genuine significance and you need to pay attention!
If you can stand its tough subject, then you’ll like this one. It has a strong vision and does what it’s supposed to: offer a cinematic take on a national tragedy. So people don’t forget the horrors. Look for it on Netflix.
Director: Angelina Jolie
Writers: Loung Ung and Angelina Jole
Stars: Sereum Say Moch, Phoeung Kompheak, Sveng Socheta
Run Time: 136 minutes.