Movie Review: First They Killed My Father (2017)

Starring: Sareum Srey Moch, Phoeung Kompheak and Mun Kimhak

Directed by: Angelina Jolie

Based on the life of Cambodian author and human rights activist Loung Ung as she remembers the horrors that her and her family suffered under the rule of the deadly Cambodian rebellion, Khmer Rouge.

This is my first foreign language movie of the year and it’s an area of cinema that I don’t take the time to fully appreciate what’s on offer. I’m sure there are a heap of foreign movies that I’ve missed out on that I don’t even know exist. My intrigue into They Killed My Father First was mainly due to Angelina Jolie’s involvement as director but also because it is based on a true story during a horrific time in Cambodian history.

First and foremost the story was brilliantly told, the harrowing experience suffered by Luong Ung and not only her family but the entire Cambodian population had you feeling so many emotions throughout the course of the movie. There are moments where you feel sorrow followed by a bout of anger finished off by elation, it’s a real roller coaster ride and the story telling and acting on display takes you on the brutal journey every step of the way.

Luong Ung is from a middle class Government family whose lives get tipped upside down when rebellion group Khmer Rouge take over their city and force everybody into the countryside to live in work camps. Scared about what will happen to them if her fathers job is ever revealed, the family keep a low profile and hope that it will all be over sooner rather than later. Luong Ung witnessed her family being torn apart by the rebels and ends up in a military training camp full of kids, alone and scared, away from her family she must do whatever it takes to survive and to see her siblings again.

The acting on display from Sareum Srey Moch, who plays Luong Ung as a seven year old is absolutely phenomenal. While there are some parts of the movie that are quite slow and you could easily lose attention or focus, her acting really keeps you hooked as the pain and anguish she shows is clear to see and executed to perfection. The cinematography is exquisite and the direction from the relatively inexperienced Jolie is also superb.

The most shocking part about this story is that the events that took place in Cambodia aren’t that well known. It’s a story about corruption, oppression and genocide but I’ll be the first to admit, I’d not heard of the goings on in Cambodia until now. When everybody thinks of genocide, the Nazi’s and their WWII atrocities are the first thing that springs to mind and while the death toll from Cambodia doesn’t quite match up to Germany’s, the fact remains the same that a quarter of the Cambodian population was killed by the Khmer Rouge which is simply staggering.

In conclusion, They Killed My Father First is a truly wonderful movie and is a hidden gem to come out of 2017. This is the best foreign language movie that I’ve seen since The Counterfeiters (2007) and despite its lengthy run time it’s a must see!


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