Netflix is a OK service. It runs well and it's easy to use. It's big problem is it's selection of films. Most of them are shit. Movies so bad they couldn't get either a cinema or DVD release. And weekly the selection seems to get worse. The few good movies available slowly disappear and get replaced with muck. But every now and then you come across a good one. Thankfully.
First They Killed My Father is a fine movie.
It's the story of a young girl called Loung Ung and her family who were forced from their comfortable existence in Phnom Penh in 1975 Cambodia into a labour camp where they were treated like slaves and re-educated in the ways of the Khmer Rouge regime. Loung, once a happy and carefree child then slowly loses her soul when she becomes a child soldier.
This was tough going. As you can imagine. Think of all the hardship of the 1984 film The Killing Fields but seen through from the point of view of a child. Weve become numb to seeing adults in danger and dying onscreen but when it's little lives in peril its just so much tougher. It's hard but its a worthwhile watch. The performances, especially from the child actors are super. The actress who plays Loung is Sareum Srey Moch and she acquits herself brilliantly. She's in every single scene and carries them all. Your heart will break as you watch her idyllic childhood disintegrate and her little face age before your eyes. It's also well directed by Angelina Jolie who thankfully didn't feel the need to crowbar herself into the film. In places it's a beautiful looking film too. Somehow Jolie finds beauty in a war torn country spattered with blood and fire.
I loved how it was shot. Because its from the viewpoint of Loung we see everything as she sees it. We know what she does. We aren't shown the wider political story of Cambodia or the wider ramifications of the Pol Pot regime and it all makes for an intensely personal tale. And to get her P.O.V. across even more the vast majority of the film is shot from a low angle so we are always looking up at the world around her, looking up at the faces of the adults brutalising and attacking her and her family. It's a very effective way of putting us in her shoes. Thankfully it was also shot with restraint. It's a violent film in places but the camera doesn't leer at it. It's mostly implied and happening off screen which makes the actual violence we do see later in the film all the more hard hitting. One scene showing the damage land mines can do will linger in my head for a while I fear.
Because we see the film from a child's point of view it comes across as a bit simplistic and heavy handed at times. Maybe that's how it's supposed to be but it did take away from the movie in places. For me anyway. One bit showing the casual cruelty of kids is used to foreshadow the horrific cruelty of the Khmer Rouge and it might as well be Jolie hitting us over the head with a rock. It was a needless scene but it's a small complaint really.
Alongside the real life Loung Ung, Angelina Jolie adapted this story from Ung's book of the same name. It's a good movie that doesn't fall into a trap of sentimentality like others of it's ilk. It doesn't use sappy music to make us cry and force us to look at the unspeakable in an attempt to shock us. It just tells the story like it is. It's not a tale that needs embellishing. It's a mature look at a horror story that sadly repeats itself around the world to this very day.
It's well worth a watch if you think you'll be able for it.