Our most cinephilic francophiles head to the 2015 Melbourne French Film Festival. These are their reviews.
We continue our Melbourne French Film Festival Review Series with our guest blogger, Véronique, and her review of Régis Wargnier’s 2014 film Le temps des aveux (The Gate).
With The Gate, a French/Belgian/Cambodian production, director Régis Wargnier (Indochine, East West) takes us once more to eastern Asia, this time Cambodia during and after the Khmer Rouge period. The movie follows the real-life story of François Bizot, a French anthropologist who was a captive of the Khmer Rouge in the seventies. The only Westerner to survive their captivity, he was released by the intervention of the young leader of his prison camp, Duch. Decades later, Bizot finds out that Duch went on to become the head torturer at Tuol Sleng, the main prison in Phnom Penh during the Khmer Rouge years, and is responsible for the death of thousands of people. When Duch is arrested for crimes against humanity, he asks for Bizot to appear at his trial as a defence witness, leaving Bizot having to decide whether he will step in to talk about the man who saved him but took so many others to their deaths.
Bizot wrote two books about his experience, and his extraordinary story is certainly one that should have been told. Adapting it for this project, Wargnier teamed up with Rithy Panha, a Cambodian director reputed for his movies and documentaries focussing on modern Cambodia and the Khmer Rouge legacy, who took on the role of producer for The Gate. The film was shot in Cambodia, with the captivity scenes set around Angkor Thom, the famous former Khmer capital which houses Angkor Wat amongst other archaeological treasures.
Bizot is credibly played by Raphaël Personnaz, and all Cambodian characters are played by locally-recruited actors, which special mention to Cambodian actor Phoeung Kompheak, who, for his first appearance on the big screen, is an impressive and chilling Duch.
Cambodia is a beautifully photogenic country – there probably lies the main problem of the movie, and something Wargnier has been guilty of in his previous work. He seems more interested in getting aesthetic shots of landscapes and countryside, and whilst it makes for beautiful cinematography, the intensity of the story, especially the relationship between Bizot and Duch, suffers from it and never quite reaches the peaks one would expect to see. Still, the enduring and complex jailor-victim interaction, the unravelling of the events around Bizot’s experience and the exotic splendour of Cambodia make The Gate worth viewing.
By Véronique Bergeron.