Tuesday, 18 April 2017

A CAMBODIAN SPRING - Review By Greg Klymkiw - 2017 Hot Docs Hot Pick ***** vérité

Buddhist Monk vs Cambodian Military.
Peaceful Activism vs Violence and Corruption.
A Cambodian Spring (2017)
Dir. Chris Kelly
Starring: Venerable Loun Sovath, Toul Srey Pov, Tepp Vanny

Review By Greg Klymkiw

In spite of the "democratic" elections of puppet Prime Minister (dictator) Hun Sen and a "free market" economy since 1993, innocent people continue to be murdered, beaten, tortured, lied to, wrongfully imprisoned, cheated and robbed by the Cambodian Government. Since 2009, Sen has been in collusion with a whole passel of scum-buckets to continue the perpetration of said murders, beatings, torture, lies, theft, incarceration and (to add insult to injury) environmental decimation. Sen's cabal of collaborators in these crimes against Cambodia include The United Nations, The World Bank, the European Union, the Shukaku Development Corporation and perhaps, most shockingly of all, the highest authorities in the Buddhist Church.

A Cambodian Spring, shot over six years, has its fair share of uplifting and triumphant moments. In spite of them, though, this is a shocking and devastatingly sad story.

Winning battles is nice, but when the enemy is corruption, there's only one winner.

And it's never "the people".

The movie serves up compulsive viewing. Director Chris Kelly employs a Direct Cinema approach (I prefer the classic 50s/60s Quebecois term "Cinéma Direct") by training his cameras on Venerable Loun Sovath, Toul Srey Pov and Tepp Vanny - three Cambodian activists fighting against the corruption of the Cambodian Government as it seeks to displace the people living around the Boeung Kak Lake in the city of Phnom Penh. The goal of the government is to completely fill-in the beautiful lake and create development opportunities for PM Sen's rich buddies. This involves the expropriation of the homes of the residents. The scum bucket corporation in charge of all this, is offering each affected family $500USD (at best) for houses they worked like slaves to own. Once ejected with this pittance, they'll never be in a position to own homes ever again.

With this highly charged situation, Kelly wisely focuses on the chief activists and his cameras capture three compelling "characters".

Venerable Loun Sovath is a monk committed to adhering to the teachings of Buddha to help his people against these injustices. Alas, officials from the highest levels of the Buddhist Faith are colluding with the government and scumbag corporate interests and they do everything in their power to make Sovath's fight a living Hell. (One interesting thing is that no policeman or military thug would dare arrest a Buddhist priest and the Cambodian Buddhist order actually has its own police force to arrest their own.)

Toul Srey Pov and Tepp Vanny are close friends living in Boeung Kak who work in tandem to spearhead actions against the government and corporate thugs. Pov is the behind the scenes "brains" of the formidable female duo and Vanny is the public face of the struggle. Vanny is a fiery speech-maker and eventually becomes anointed in the world's eyes, especially when Hilary Clinton, as Secretary of State under the Obama administration, bestows Vanny with both an award and highly adulatory words of support (in public and private).

Though Sovath is clearly the obvious butt-kicker figure amongst this trio, the real emotional core of the story lies in the friendship between the two women. The Cinéma Direct approach clearly serves the whole narrative, but it's especially effective at capturing the eventual erosion twixt the women and sadly displays how governments and corporations - one and the same, really - win the war by laying a divide-and-conquer groundwork for their nefarious activities.

The film opens with a scene infused with nostalgia and melancholy. At the end, Kelly repeats the entire scene. The effect is emotionally stirring - devastating, really. I defy anyone not to be weeping openly at the scene.

The journey is a rollercoaster. Its highs are high, the lows are low. By the end, we are as defeated as the people of Cambodia and the residents of Boeung Kak. Even after an apparent government concession, the film bears witness to innocent people having their homes stolen and demolished before their very eyes.

And these two great women, Toul Srey Pov and Tepp Vanny, are reduced to being mortal enemies - wedges of pettiness have been clearly and intentionally driven between them.

One waits in vain for one final Frank Capra flourish to make things right. It never comes. Life, just isn't like the movies.


A Cambodian Spring from EyeSteelFilm, enjoys its World Premiere at Hot Docs 2017 in Toronto.