Friday, May 23, 2008

The Killing Fields

The Killing Fields (Roland Joffe, 1984) [5]

It's hard to not like a film like this because it makes you feel like you don't give a care about the situation in Cambodia that this portrays. That's not to say what the Khmer Rogue did was wrong but there is definitely a difference between history and film. This film is no different than any other kind of middlebrow picture Hollywood has put out about world situations, mostly in the third world. The plot is based on Sydney Schanberg's time in Cambodia during the Civil War and Khmer Rogue take over. The first half of the film deals directly this. The second half deals with Schanberg's colleague and translator, Dith Pran, as he struggles to free from the forced agrarian labor camps set up by the Khmer Rogue. The main problem is the same flaw that hampers all films of this sort: it creates such a sense of guilt and shame in the Western viewer seeing what to them are barbaric actions by a people different from them. My problem doesn't have to deal with anything with the situation itself; the actions were clearly barbaric but in strictly film terms, the entire situation is manipulative. Joffe uses Dith Pran's ordeal and suffering to further his own sense of self-approval for telling the world of the horrific situation in Cambodia. It's not to say that he shouldn't but the whole film smacks so much of a sense of superiority in the filmmaker that he's doing a deed that so many other aren't that it completely taints the film. Couple with that that the film just isn't executed that well, with performances that are too stilted and emotionally empty that it really almost does a disservice to the story being told. Then again, the ending in all its standard uplifting glory is just too hard to be completely removed from, so Joffe must have done something well enough to work. Just for once, though, I would like to see a major film that handles third world affairs without such a heavy hand and tells its story without the sanctimonious babble.

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