Tag Archives: Cambodia

Two Brothers

I saw Two Brothers on the weekend, a lovely story about two tigers whose father gets killed and who are separated shortly after birth in Cambodia. They lead very different lives for about one year until they are reunited by chance and recognise each other. They will go back to the wild and find their mother. This is not a new film; it dates from 2004. What triggered my wanting to see it is that it was partly filmed in Beng Mealea, a temple that I visited a few months ago in Cambodia, a magical place. The movie is cute and the tigers are beautiful. And Guy Pearce, who plays the role of an explorer, is very good as usual. In fact he is one of my favourite actors, and this has nothing to do with the fact that he is Australian. You may recall his stellar performances in Memento, L.A. Confidential or in The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert. He also starred recently in Animal Kingdom, which I highly recommend. Jean-Jacques Annaud directed Two Brothers.


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The Killing Fields – My Father’s Guests

It’s so nice to have a little bit of free time! I’ve managed to see two movies over the weekend, which, as most of you would know, is quite an achievement for me! The first one I watched (on DVD) was  “The Killing Fields” directed by Roland Joffe. It is an oldish movie (It dates from 1984) and one that I had actually seen before, but after my trip to Cambodia last month, I wanted to see it again. It stars Sam Waterstone, Haing S. Ngor, and John Malkovich, and won three Academy Awards (Best supporting actor, best editing, and best cinematography). The story is about Sydney Schanberg, a New York Times journalist covering the civil war in Cambodia, and his local Cambodian interpreter, Dith Pran. When the American forces leave in a hurry before the Khmer Rouge forces enter the capital city of Phnom Phen, Dith Pran manages to send his family away while he stays behind with Schanberg to cover the event. Schanberg and his fellow journalists eventually leave the country, but Pran, as a local, has to stay and is arrested by the Khmer Rouge. Pran will survive and manage to flee the Khmer Rouge regime and is reunited with Schanberg. It’s a great movie about a story too often untold: the fate of the Cambodian people during the Khmer Rouge regime who managed to murder two million Cambodians between 1975 and 1979. It’s not an easy movie, but then it is a very difficult topic as well. The story is well presented, the actors are all very good, there are beautiful landscapes to admire, and it is impossible not to be touched by the story of Pran and his narrow escape from death. I find it amazing to see how Cambodia has managed to overcome those terrible years and become what it is today, a welcoming, peaceful, and stunning country. As a consequence of the war years, there are unfortunately still too many land mines in the country. The country is definitely worth an extended visit. The Killing Fields will give you an introduction to a dark side of its recent past.

The second movie I saw on the weekend was “My Father’s Guests” (Les invites de mon père in French) as part of the Hong Kong French Film Festival. The film is from 2009 and was directed by Anne Le Ny. It stars Fabrice Luchini, Karin Viard, Michel Aumont, Valérie Benguigui, and Véronica Novak. It is the story of how Lucien Paumelle, a retired doctor, welcomes two very special illegal migrants from Moldova in his home. His commitment leads him to marry the sexy, young woman, Tatiana, several decades younger than him, to the dismay of his adult son and daughter, Babette and Arnaud.  They soon realise that despite being 80 years old, Lucien has succumbed to the charm of his guest. While Tatiana and her daughter invade Lucien’s home, Babette and Arnaud’s lives turn to chaos. The movie is fun to watch, especially the beginning when Tatiana makes herself comfortable in her new home and family. It touches on tricky topics such as illegal migrants, fake marriages, racism, sexual relationships by interest, and age and grieving. I was particularly interested by the topic of an old man dating a young woman while the mother had recently passed away, and how the children react, since this is the main theme of my latest full-length play “Sorting Dresses.” I don’t like Luchini as an actor, he annoys me, but he is okay in this movie. As for Karin Viard, she is as good as always. I was however a little disappointed with the last part of the movie: too fast, not realistic, some big holes in the story, and an ending that did not gel with the rest of the film.

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Preah Khan… a video attempt

I did an experiment with my digital camera when in Cambodia last week and tried to create a short film of the Preah Khan temple. It’s not perfect, but it will give you an idea…

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The temples of Angkor at Siem Reap, Cambodia

I came back last week from four, too-short days in Cambodia, on a visit to Siem Reap and its innumerable temples. What an amazing place! The temples were built during the 12th century, and the scale of the buildings and their geographical spread is staggering. There are hundreds of them, silent witnesses of an empire that stretched from Burma to Vietnam and of a capital city that boasted a population of one million inhabitants when London had only 50,000! Abandoned to the jungle for centuries, the temples are now surrounded by towering trees and thick vegetation. Some of them are well-preserved, some of them are just ruins, and others are still totally covered by vegetation. It is really an amazing sight. Many temples can be visited in a day from Siem Reap, Cambodia’s tourism mecca. In fact most tourists are quite happy with visiting Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom, the best preserved and larger temples, about five kilometres away from town. We visited the area on rented bicycles and ended up riding around thirty kilometres in a day, which was fun except for the intense heat. However, some of the farther temples such as Beng Mealea are really worth a visit. The Cambodian people welcome you with open arms and a smile is never very far. Their recent history is quite amazing. The Khmer people have been to hell and back, and it is impressive to see how the country has survived and recovered, when a fifth of its population was wiped out by the Khmer Rouge. You may have seen The Killing Fields, a film by Roland Joffe (1984) which tells the story of a New York Times journalist covering the civil war in Cambodia and of his local representative, who stays behind when the Khmer Rouge move in. It’s a great movie. As a consequence of these terrible years, many places are too dangerous to roam around, because of land mines. Fortunately, all land mines have been cleared around Siem Reap. You can reach the city by air, road, or boat from Phnom Penh. If you decide to travel up the river and Tonle Sap lake, you will come across an interesting – albeit far too touristy for my liking – floating village, with its own school, church and shops. Siem Reap is bustling with restaurants, bars, shops and hotels, but it hasn’t lost its charm. Be warned, Khmer food is addictive! But it is an addiction that will not cost you an arm and a leg: for a few dollars, you will be eating like a king. Try amok, a dish of baked fish with coconut, lemongrass and chilli in banana leaves, and you will understand what I mean!

Here are, in decreasing order, my favourite temples:

  • Angkor Wat: the largest temple, and also the better preserved as it was never abandoned to the elements. You can’t miss it, as you can see its outline from far away. It is surrounded by a huge moat full of water. Try to go early in the morning if you can, as it quickly swarms with tourists.

  • Preah Khan: a maze of vaulted corridors, fairly well-preserved. Walking around this temple is the experience of a lifetime, with the jungle all around, the songs of the birds, and with a little bit of luck (as was our case), no tourists.

  • Beng Mealea (60 kilometres from town) : this is the ultimate lost-temple experience. Beng Mealea has been left to the jungle on purpose, to give people an idea of what temples looked like when they were rediscovered. I am lost for words to describe it: trees, bushes, jungle mixing with old stones and corridors in an Indiana Jones atmosphere. Visitors are supposed to keep to the wooden walkways erected for the filming of Two Brothers by Jean-Jacques Annaud, but most stray from the well-worn paths, as we did. It’s an experience I’ll never forget. We got caught by heavy downpour and had to take shelter in one of the corridors for half an hour, feet in mud and water, hoping that the roof wasn’t going to collapse on us. A few stones (each one of around one ton) fell on the ground not far from us, and as can be expected we were a little worried!

  • Ta Prohm is another jungle temple, but is well looked after, and close to Siem Reap. A very atmospheric ruin left to be swallowed by the jungle.

  • Angkor Thom was a city of around 10 sq km, with five huge gates. Bayon is a three level structure with huge heads carved into the stone. Here again we got lost in the jungle and came across several smaller temples.

And a few more pictures…


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