Les tombeaux sans noms, Rithy Panh, Camboya, 2018, 115'
Cambodian director Rithy Panh continues his documentary exploration of the memory of his own country. His latest film marks another step in this personal, spiritual and cinematographic project to rescue the voices, bodies and stories of those who experienced the Khmer Rouge genocide first-hand. In this latest work, he contemplates a meeting with the spirits of the dead as a way of envisaging a road to peace.
“I made this journey so that I could sit with the dead. Talk with them in pagodas, at roadsides, in the rivers.
Even today, when the earth is dug up you find human remains, bits of different coloured fabric. Char, Trum, Wat Pô... A child remembers everything: forced labour, hunger, separations... And, finally, death. I have returned to these places quite often. However, I have not found the traces of the graves of my father and my nephews, or the mass graves where my mother and my sisters were buried.
You have to get to the other side. The dead are looking for us, they’re waiting for us. Some journeys naturally frighten us and we try to get out of them, trapped in the waiting or the rush of life. Coming face to face with the dead is a serious matter. When you search for souls, you invite them to return, without fear. So many dead are looking for a final resting place. Or for a simple gesture, look or thought. This is an invitation to make that journey. I am inviting you to join me.”
“Phnom Penh (capital of Cambodia) fell. The revolutionary forces of the Khmer Rouge entered the city after their victory. During the hours that followed, they forced two million inhabitants out. Schools and hospitals were closed, money was abolished, religion was outlawed, censure was brought in and culture was banished.
On foot, on carts, by train and then on foot again... From one village to another: Saang, Koh Tauch, Char, Sré Ô... From one rice paddy to another, from one set of ruins to another, we split rocks, we excavated the earth, we pulled up roots. Until, that is, we lost our own roots.
Then came the command. The Angkar (communist party of Kampuchea) sent us to Trum, a place in the middle of nowhere. Low-lying, vast, arid, treeless land... In the dry season, the cracked earth cut and burned the soles of our feet. That is where the Khmer Rouge exiled us to in early 1976.
Eleven of us left Phnom Penh. Just two of us survived.”