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The Missing Picture

A visually astonishing, harrowing account of Pol Pot’s Cambodia using miniature clay figures and archive footage to explore memory and trauma.

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  • Director Rithy Panh
  • Producer Catherine Dussart
  • Screenwriters Christophe Bataille, Rithy Panh
  • France-Cambodia 2013
  • 90 mins
  • UK distribution New Wave Films

Having chronicled the horrors of Pol Pot’s regime in documentaries such as S21 The Killing Machine (2003), director Rithy Panh returns to the subject that haunts his work with this harrowing, deeply felt account of his childhood years, endured in various Khmer Rouge labour camps. After spending his early years in a comfortable middle-class household in Phnom Penh, he suffered profound hunger and brutality in conditions that saw the rest of his family perish. Looking back on these horrific events from middle age, Panh recreates his experiences with miniature clay figures against stylised backdrops and archive footage (much of which was shot by the regime itself). Totems of a childhood innocence cruelly defiled by Pol Pot’s regime, these mute figures are invested with extraordinary expressive power by the forensic detail and lyrical restraint of Panh’s narration (co-written with Christophe Bataille). A searching rumination on the relationship between memory and trauma, The Missing Picture demands we reflect on near-unimaginable suffering with a sombre urgency and quiet insistence.

Edward Lawrenson

Director biography

Rithy Panh is an internationally acclaimed Cambodian filmmaker of both feature and documentary films. He was born in 1964 in Phnom Penh. Like so many of his generation, he lost his father, mother and other members of his immediate family to starvation and overwork as a result of their confinement in Khmer Rouge labour camps. In 1979, he escaped the Khmer Rouge by crossing the border into Thailand. He took up residence in France the following year and later graduated from the French National Cinema School in Paris. He started his career by directing documentaries for which he received numerous prizes: Site II (1989), Cinéma de notre temps: Souleymane Cissé (1990), Cambodge entre guerre et paix (1992). He dedicated his first feature film, Neak Srê (Rice People), to the memory of his family. Since 1997, he has directed many documentaries, among which Lumière sur un massacre: 10 films contre 110,000,000 de mines (1997), Van Chan, une danseuse cambodgienne (1998), La Terre des âmes errantes (1999). S-21: The Khmer Rouge Killing Machine, was released widely and earned Rithy Panh numerous awards. The film is structured around interviews with former prison guards from Phnom Penh’s notorious Tuol Sleng prison, reuniting them with the prisoners who had once been under their watch. Mr Panh was able to return to Cambodia in 1990 and now divides his time between residences in Cambodia and France. In Phnom Penh he founded the Bophana Audiovisual Resource Centre, the aim of which is to preserve the country’s film, photographic and audio history. L’Image manquante (The Missing Picture) is Rithy Panh latest film. The Missing Picture was inspired by the book Rithy Panh co-wrote with Christophe Bataille, The Elimination: A Survivor of the Khmer Rouge Confronts his Past and the Commandant of the Killing Fields (Clerkenwell Press, 2013). The film won the highest award of Cannes’ Un Certain Regard selection.

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