The Missing Picture

Director Rithy Panh recreates his own memories of this turbulent period in his country’s history through the unusual medium of elaborate diorama-style tableaux of scenes from his childhood (he was 13 when the Khmer Rouge seized power), populated with hundreds of small figurines of men, women, children, babies and animals, handmade from clay and then handpainted. He then films these static scenes, often featuring representations of himself and his family members, cutting from close ups to wides, even tracking or panning, while in voiceover the narration contextualizes what we’re seeing and ruminates on its meaning. Elsewhere he employs black-and-white documentary footage, some of it incredibly upsetting, to tell fragments of the wider story while cutting back to live-action close-ups of the little clay dolls being sculpted. And he also occasionally crudely superimposes archive clips from the glamorized, escapist pre-coup Cambodian films he watched being made as a kid and which come to represent the carefree, brightly colored childhood that came to such an abrupt end in 1975. It’s a fascinating example of storytelling and documentary techniques being used in concert and occasionally in collision to produce something that, whether it completely works on all its levels or not, is totally unique and devastatingly personal.”

“Review: Documentary 'The Missing Picture' Is Shocking, Poignant And Soulful” by Jessica Kiang