[Panh's] previous film's clay figurines have been replaced by a series of tableaux in which an actor representing Panh inhabits a room that changes appearance with the passing of time, giving Exile the feel of an installation, which is ultimately less effective than The Missing Picture’s more concrete abstraction.
The words advocate and condemn certain kinds of living, touch upon revolution, repression and terror, daily living and the struggle to survive. They sometimes disagree with and at other times amplify the plight of the Cambodian’s bare existence. Panh’s modest combination of this amalgamated man’s living and a collage of ideas that justify, praise, override and deride this life results in a moving and quietly provocative history film.
Not as accessible, narrative-driven, or provocatively fanciful as Panh’s Oscar-nominated “The Missing Picture,” “Exile” is an altogether more cerebral piece of work, using quotations from Mao, Baudelaire and others to unpack the nature of revolutionary ideology and to explore the gap between Panh’s understandings as a teenager and his perceptions now. It’s must-get programming for venues and festivals that regularly show Chris Marker–style experimental docs, and perhaps for museums.