Moving portrait of a family, torn apart by the Khmer Rouge.
Socheata was brought up in the USA and born on the Cambodian New Year in a refugeecamp in Thailand. Her parents survived the genocide by the Khmer Rouge, who took over powerin Cambodia in 1975 and killed two millions inhabitants. A quarter of the population died under Pol Pot. The terror lasted till 1979 when the Vietnamese made and end to the barbarian regime.
Socheata’s parents wanted to give her, her two older sisters Mala and Leakhena and her older brother an American life. When they are all together for Christman in Dallas Texas, her mother tells her that her sisters are not her real sisters but her cousins and that she was married before.
Her mother says that her former husband died but doesn’t want to say much about it, so Socheata becomes interested in her past and wants to meet her Cambodian family. This documentary is a personal search. We follow her to Phnom Phen with her parents, brother and camera. She reads in the plane that one or two million people had to leave the capital in 1975 and work in the fields. The Khmer Rouge wanted to establish a classless society. The party Angka was everything, it even owned the children. Nowadays young people don’t know anything about their national history anymore. The prime minister suggested to dig a hole to bury the past in. It surprises Socheata that no one in the capital is angry. Life goes on. Her mother doesn’t even know anymore where they lived in Phnom Phen.
We go to the labourcamp where the first husband of her mother dissappeared, but the mother wants to leave soon again. We visit a museum of the genocide, the family of her father and of her mother. Her brother sees the face of his biological father for the first time on a photograph, that they buried just like their jewels during the period of terror.
Socheata asks her mother about the relationship with her dad. Her mother says he rather likes white skin while she is half Chinese. Socheata wonders about their past but her mother is as tired of the camera as her dad is and suggest that she starts making a touristic report, so she does for a while.
Then her mother opens up. She says she was scared that all her family would die. In the camp they stole rice while she told stories to the guard. Socheata still feels that her mother is hiding something, though. She visits with her dad the grave of the mother of her cousins. Socheata meets a person who worked in the hospital. They also speak to a former head of the district. ‘Did you believe in their philosophy?’ she asks. ‘If you did not cooperate you were the enemy,’ the man answers. ‘Are you haunted by your memories?’ The man isn’t.
In the meanwhile she has got to know about the strategy of the Khmer Rouge of separating families and creating new ones on the basis of their differences. She asks her dad if he was forced to marry her mother. He says he accepted the marriage because he felt sorry for the two sisters. There was no weddingceremony. A Khmer Rouge official just said they were married. After this conversation her dad collapses. The former head of the district gives him food, but Socheata don’t accept it for herself and rathers leaves.
In 1979 her cousins were brought to a village where they found rice. They tell about it an moving way. Socheata’s parents started searching for them and found them by chance, while they were digging up potatoes. They walked all the way to the Thai border, while the mother was pregnant, through an area full of mines and dead bodies.
Socheata goes with her dad to the refugee camp but nothing is left there between small bambu trees. Her dad says their was no ceremony at her birth. Usually they wind a red thread around the wrist of the baby. Socheata says to her dad that he did good, though.
In a temple in Cambodia they have a birth ceremony for Socheata. ‘What would give you rest?’ she asks her parents. Pol Pot is dead, her mother says, while buying loads of dried fish. Back in Dallas they celebrate the marriage of her parents with cake. Her mother is grateful for what her second husband did for them.
The documentary is framed by sayings of the Khmer Rouge and animations replace memories. This brave and touching personal search won many awards, among them the Movies that Matter Award of the International Documentary Festival Amsterdam 2006.
More information about the documentary: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ClQWNLeXFGo/
More about Socheata: http://www.samaralectures.com/speakers/socheata-poeuv/