Angelina Jolie has created an excellent and heartbreaking film based on the true story of Loung Ung, author of the autobiographical book First They Killed My Father: A Daughter of Cambodia. Angelina and Loung wrote the screenplay that is about Loung’s experiences as a young girl during Cambodia of the 1970’s. It is unique in that the film is seen entirely through the eyes of seven-year-old Loung (Sareum Srey Moch). There is no preachiness in this film; it simply shows us what she and her family endured as a consequence of the United States bombing Cambodia (even though they were a neutral country), and the subsequent rise of the Khmer Rouge.
First They Killed My Father was nominated for Best Foreign Language Film at the Golden Globes this year although it did not win. I watched it on streaming Netflix, and it is rated TV-MA. There are English subtitles that are easy to read.
Once the Khmer Rouge comes into power, those Cambodians living in the city are made to leave their homes and walk on foot deep into the country where they are forced to work in what are essentially slave labor camps. Loung doesn’t really understand why they are growing all this beautiful food - eggplants, string beans, and rice - and then given meager rations while the food is sent off elsewhere. The people are nearly starving, and to make matters worse, her father Pa (Phoeung Kompheak), who has previously worked for the government, is taken away and murdered.
This is a large family with seven children, and their mother, Ma (Sveng Socheata), attempts to hold the family together, but the three oldest children are sent off somewhere for fates unknown, leaving the four younger children with her. Loung is a bright, assertive little girl, and is eventually selected by those in charge to be sent to a special school where she learns how to bury land mines, shoot a gun and otherwise become a mercenary. It is chilling to watch how the authorities work to brainwash the residents of this work camp to be just like one another, everything from their hair to their clothing, and in referring to them as comrades.
Exquisitely filmed, I liked how we see the land of Cambodia from above, a bird’s eye view perspective, as well as on ground level though Loung’s eyes.
I thought this film was respectful of the culture and people that were so cruelly victimized. Angelina’s oldest son Maddox Jolie-Pitt was adopted from Cambodia, and he was an executive producer of the film. Another adopted son, Pax Jolie-Pitt from Vietnam, did the still photography.
I highly recommend watching First They Killed My Father. At first I thought it would be a documentary, but it wasn’t and I liked it better than what a documentary would have been. It was a well-designed story about the times and struggles of the Cambodian people, especially the children who endured very difficult times of death and deprivation during this era.