The Missing Picture Screen 26 articles

The Missing Picture

2013

The Missing Picture Poster
  • I see how the use of wood figurines corresponds to the rough recreation of an event for which no pictures exist, only perverted images created by a group intent on completely reforming reality from the ground up. But they’re such a static storytelling tool that this amounts to 90 minutes of the most disturbing of atrocity tales told over slow pans across immobile dioramas, which means the kind of movie that’s admirable and impossibly to deny but also difficult to appreciate.

  • Exactly the sort of grim memoir that I find oppressive when it's done conventionally; the layer of abstraction imposed by the clay figures makes all the difference. Wish Panh had been a bit more rigorous in his use of the conceit... but overall it's an uncannily moving experience, enhanced by beautifully written and performed (in French, by an actor standing in for Panh) voiceover narration. A valuable companion piece to S21.

  • With such an affected and alienating device such as clay figure-filled tableaus serving as the primary setting... it's difficult for Panh to capture the immersive effect he so dearly wishes to conjure: to place the audience in the mire of hunger, fatigue, and despair. But his cavalcade of ideas... forges an exceedingly empathetic representation of the childhood memories he still struggles with over 35 years later.

  • Panh is not just telling his story and making a picture to go along with it. He has found a way to channel affect, to make his tale of history-gone-wrong resonate for a viewer who, we can assume, is all too familiar with conventional cinematic reenactment. Instead, we observe a filmmaker employing the most primitive of means to achieve a higher level of empathy, as well as an ethics of singularity. We are all unique, after all, which is what the Khmer Rouge chose not to see.

  • Panh believes deeply in cinema and the restorative, communicative power of moving images. Though their use is visually repetitive at times, these dioramas become an act of defiance in the face of an unmovable mountain of history. The ultimate insult, then, is to see how the Khmer Rouge’s version of cinema was a total lie...

  • The figurines in dioramas play on a number of associations: childhood (in the work camps, children grew up seeing family members perish), the official notion that these were model sites of ideological purification, and the hand-worked clay’s associations with the land, earth, burial. Panh’s sense of loving duty helps fill in the aching void of this history’s many missing pictures.

  • ...Even this straightforward account is illuminating, e.g. in making clear that the Cambodian genocide (unlike the Rwandan, or indeed the Holocaust) came about less through malicious cruelty (though of course there was cruelty too) than a kind of mass negligence, based on dehumanization and blind adherence to ideology.

  • A profoundly personal meditation on a culture devastated and terminally affected by near-unimaginable cruelty and violence, the film confronts both the absence of official historical images and the inevitable subjectivity of remembered experience by deploying a mix of narration, archive footage, music, photos and recreation using tiny carved models. The result is moving and remarkably resonant.

  • Panh's narration with moving straightforwardness segues between historical recount, deeply personal recollections, and broader criticism, illustrated by the savagely naïve and thereby at once terrifying and sweet figures of his clay populace, each working, living, starving, dying in unalterable repose.

  • Panh’s burnt clay theatre meshes perfectly with the justified pathos distinguishing the narration, while—intensified by complex negotiations with the historical film material—he proposes a miraculous method to represent the unrepresentable.

  • Rithy Panh’s The Missing Picture, which won the Certain Regard prize, is also an urgent call to memory in the aftermath of genocide but in an extremely different key, and it is tightly focused where the Lanzmann film is vast in scope... [It's] a curious undertaking, at once extremely fragile and necessarily distanced—how could it be otherwise? Panh has constructed his film in such a way that he is implicitly calling upon the viewer to intuit layer upon layer of buried or suppressed emotion...

  • A documentary solely by association, The Missing Picture is rather more ineffable: a first-person political essay, an ancestral autoportrait, a cinematic scrapbook, and, most substantially, a vital historical rejoinder to an age of bygone trauma.

  • The Missing Picture occasionally loses its narrative focus and feels longer than its 92 minutes running time... [Still,] Panh has made a powerful document of true horror, which he passes on to the audience as a way of exorcising the memory for himself: As the narrator says, "I wish to be rid of this picture so I show this to you."

  • The title of the doc resonates exponentially as the simple toy-like sets suddenly become vessels for ghostly imagery. We can only imagine how the scenes played out in real life and thus are forced to project our own anxieties and shock onto the stoic faces of the tiny clay models on the screen. The effect is heartbreaking and, more importantly, is never played for gimmickry.

  • Mang’s craft and Panh’s mise en scène make the little figures of clay seem more real than the ham actors of the movies that were “boasting our bare-handed fight against the colonial powers.” A world of memory, a world made cinematic by patient editing, is encapsulated in these miniature dioramas. This also we will not forget.

  • Panh does show us horrible memories: starvation-contorted figurines dying in hospital, or collapsed in mud. At times it seems too much for him, and the dead, their painted-on outfits colorful again, take flight as sad, soothing music plays. These moments are like emotional eruptions of Panh’s overarching intention here: to share his fate — survival — with others, or at least their images.

  • This kind of restaging of the past is in many ways antithetical to the reenacted scenes of murder as directed by the executioners in Joshua Oppenheimer’s The Act of Killing, and not only for the differences in the historical specificities of Cambodia from 1975–79, and Indonesia from 1965–66. Where Oppenheimer, in his concern for the psychological justifications for murder enabled by power, dwells on the horrifying creativity of the perpetrators, Panh addresses the annihilating force of genocide.

  • This absence of visual documentation [of the Khmer Rouge killings] is the “missing picture” of the title—a void Panh seeks to fill with his carefully, skillfully framed tableaux. Far from a distancing device, these snapshots of suffering somehow feel more vivid, more real, than the grainy celluloid material. They suggest raw memories molded into physical form, history brought alive one evocative still image at a time.

  • The use of hundreds of dolls to detail the plights of famine, torture, and grief is perhaps odd, but it isn't that different in practice from using human performers to portray a historical scene... And yet, with the inanimate clay dolls cut away and painted to represent a mostly forgotten time, a haunting image is produced that may create a longer-lasting impression than more conventional documentary strategies.

  • Matched with the film’s images—sometimes beautiful, most often all the more harrowing because of the gentleness of the effigy-like figures—the text takes on a savage, bitterly melancholic poetry that recalls the incantatory matter-of-factness of Jean Cayrol’s text for Alain Resnais’s Night and Fog.

  • Recurring images of crumbling film canisters remind us of what film can and can’t record. “I wish to be rid of this picture, so I show it to you,” says the narrator, after one shattering recollection. Panh’s technique achieves things a conventional documentary could not, as when he pans across dozens of the clay figures jumbled in a box, in a shot that calls up both the toys of childhood, and graves.

  • Your film is not just any documentary, but a special kind that is my favorite: an essay film. As an essay filmmaker, you don't just tell us a story by showing us images. You also make us reflect on the way you are telling and showing. This is important because the only surviving images of your past are the propaganda movies made by the Khmer Rouge, which only tell their version of what happened. Your images challenge their images, but they also question the power of any image to tell the truth.

  • With meticulous direction that seems to bring the film’s little dolls to life, [Panh] tells the story of his parents’ death and recounts the dehumanizing horrors that he, among other survivors, endured... With a tribute to Ang Sarun, a cameraman who paid for his images with his life, and bitter recollections of China’s support for the regime and Western receptivity to its slogans, Panh honors the Khmer Rouge’s victims while staging the agony and responsibility of memory itself.

  • The conceit is tremendously daring, but one with a huge payoff, suggesting an evil that can’t be fully processed by young eyes. Elsewhere, Panh includes crumbling b&w footage of the actual camps, shot by official cinematographers who were tortured for poor exposure or for letting depressing realities seep in. Either via clay dolls or fragile flesh, the truth is unmissable—as is Panh’s film itself.

  • The audacity of “The Missing Picture” — a brilliant documentary about a child who held on to life in Cambodia’s killing fields — is equaled only by its soulfulness... There’s a distinctly Brechtian quality to how the figurines are deployed that initially recalls Todd Haynes’s “Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story,” a 1980s film in which Barbie dolls are used to narrate the singer’s death, The figurines in “The Missing Picture” are more sober and nakedly sincere, more touching and horrifying.

  • The most original, thought-provoking, and gut-wrenching film memoir in years, Rithy Panh’s The Missing Picture tells a riveting story whose very form addresses the interface of history and cinema—a document at once of utmost political relevance and of emotional and psychological truth.

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