Enemies of the People (tbc)

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The ViewAuckland Review

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Review byMatthew Turner9/12/2010

Four out of Five stars
Running time: 93 mins

A decade in the making, this is a powerful, well made documentary that serves as an important historical record, though it's understandably devastating to watch.

What's it all about?
Co-directed by Ron Lemkin and Cambodian investigative journalist Thet Sambath, Enemies of the People details the results of Sambath's decade long 'project' to track down those responsible for the deaths in Cambodia's Killing Fields during the Khmer Rouge dictatorship of 1975-1979 and persuade them to talk on camera. His primary subject is 'Brother Number Two' Nuon Chea (effectively Himmler to Pol Pot's Hitler), who takes three years to speak about the past but finally begins to open up.

Sambath also interviews Khoun and Soun, two ordinary men who were foot soldiers during the regime and carried out many of the killings; he then follows the chain of command upwards in an attempt to discover just who ordered the killings and why. Throughout the film, Sambath admits that he has concealed the truth about the murders of his father, mother and brother from his subjects and the film builds to the moment when he confronts Nuon Chea with his own family history.

The Good
Sambath spent almost ten years befriending his subjects, building up their trust and convincing them of the importance of talking on camera and the results are astonishing, if utterly devastating to watch. The scene in which Khoun and Soun sit at the edge of what was once one of the Killing Fields and talk calmly about killing men, women and children is particularly upsetting, as is a scene where Soun reluctantly demonstrates exactly how he killed his victims.

The accumulation of detail is grimly fascinating throughout, from the casual descriptions of grisly scenes in the 1970s (a passer-by describes how the bodies would seem to boil in the water) to macabre revelations such as the killers developing a taste for human gall to stave off dengue fever. There's also a striking sense of people finding relief in talking about these things for the first time.

The Great
However, the film's biggest coup is to get an admission of the killings from Nuon Chea (who is arrested by the UN at the end of the film), but even though he expresses remorse for the regime, he still defends his actions. There's also an extremely revealing moment when Nuon Chea reacts to footage of the death of Saddam Hussein.

Worth seeing?
By turns grimly fascinating and utterly devastating, Enemies of the People is a historically important documentary that demands to be seen. Highly recommended.

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Content updated: 16/11/2019 11:38

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