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A cinematic prayer

Graves Without a Name
Regissør: Rithy Panh
(Frankrike, Kambodsja)

Rithy Panh's cinematic excavation of the Cambodian genocide is entering its third decade, with at least five aesthetic attempts to approach it.

S21: The Khmer Rouge Death Machine (2003) was the first of Panh's films to reach a larger audience. The staging of confrontations between victims and guards at a notorious prison came almost ten years before Joshua Oppenheimer's epoch-making T (2012). The animated documentary The Missing Picture (2013) continued Panh's project, using similar approaches as Ari Folman in Waltz with bashir (2008), in an autobiographical account of his own experiences during the Pol Pot terror regime. Panh has also made less acclaimed dramas about the events, and more essayistic films, like Exile (2016).

The movie is looking for something intangible, yes, perhaps impossible: to heal.

 I Graves Without a Name the director weaves together essayistic voiceover, animation and talking heads with something new – rituals. The main elements of the film are scenes of seance-like, familiarity with the dead: candles are lit, water is sprinkled, rice is thrown, beans are messed, and it is all a search for murdered relatives who are doomed to roam forever time. Occasionally, two peasants tell horrible stories about the regime's atrocities, a voiceover recites poetic pondering from Resnais' Holocaust classic Night and Fog (1955) and other sources, and photographs of victims appear in and disappear from the landscape.

The unfathomable

After the screening, I happened to hear three audience members say that they had not understood any of it. . .

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Daniel Glassman
Glassman lives in Toronto and writes about film and music. See also povmagazine.com

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