Playlist review of TLR
|Ma Rynet (Sophoun) in a captured moment from The Last Reel|
“The Last Reel”
The debut film from Cambodian director Sotho Kulikar, “The Last Reel” starts shakily but adds nuance and layers as it progresses to become affecting and gripping by its closing section, something noted by the committee who gave it the “Spirit of Asia” award at the Tokyo International Film Festival. This is the second Cambodian film that we know of to use the history of the country’s pop cultural/filmmaking past to comment on both the devastation wrought by the Khmer Rouge, and the cathartic power of storytelling. The widely lauded documentary/personal history “The Missing Picture” is the other picture, while the documentary “Don’t Think I’ve Forgotten,” which plays at this year’s stacked DOC NYC fest and investigates the country’s relationship with rock ‘n’ roll, looks set to be a third entry into this mini-subgenre (and our attention was drawn to another -- "Golden Slumbers"). But “The Last Reel,” though heavily autobiographical, is not a documentary, and the unmistakably personal nature of its story allows it to become, by its close a passionate cri de coeur, and a lamentation for a period of cruelty and perverted ideology that scars, perhaps even maims, the collective Cambodian memory.
As simple fiction, the film flounders a little, especially initially when we are expected to invest in the rather empty-headed star cross’d romance between a young Cambodian girl and her no-good gang affiliated boyfriend. The snapshot it gives of current Cambodian attitudes to gender relations and familial duty is interesting, but the tale is an overfamiliar one, and the filmmaking, never terribly sophisticated, doesn’t give us much reason to suspect just what a stunning story Kulikar has up her sleeve. In fact, if it were our business to do so, we’d strongly urge her to make substantial cuts to this portion—essentially, she buries her fascinating lede under some not terribly interesting filler. And throughout the rest of the film, she only occasionally manages a true synthesis of the real story with the rather melodramatic turns the fictional overlay takes.
But no matter, because the real story that emerges, somehow all the more evocative for being told in glimpses, builds into a desperately moving, and surprising tale. A married, fragile ex-movie star, her overbearing husband, and the owner of the dilapidated cinema who pines for her, become entangled in a young girl’s desire to reshoot an ending to a currently unfinished film, and soon the secrets all three hide as to their roles and actions during the terror come to light. More about story than style, “The Last Reel” relates a personal, cross-generational tale of love and hate to the loss of cultural heritage and identity that occurred when Khmer Rouge outlawed moviemaking and destroyed a thriving national industry, and if only in its own last reel, it has both educational and deeply emotional impact. [B]