Friday, June 1, 2007

S21: The Khmer Rouge Killing Machine (2002)

The brutality of Cambodia's Khmer Rouge regime is documented in Rithy Panh's documentary, S21: The Khmer Rouge Killing Machine. S21 was a notorious detention center, an abandoned suburban schoolhouse used by the Angkor (the Communist Party organization) for the imprisonment and torture of thousands of innocent citizens. Prisoners were tortured until they confessed to false crimes, and were also ordered to incriminate others. Of the approximately 17,000 prisoners who were interred there, about seven survived. Panh interviews two of the survivors, Vann Nath and Chum Mey. While Mey can barely bring himself to speak of the horrors he endured, including the loss of his family, Nath agrees to return to the prison, which is now the Tuol Sleng S21 Genocide Museum, and discuss his ordeal. Panh also brings back several of the Khmer Rouge personnel, who committed atrocious acts on behalf of the regime, many while they were still teenagers. The guards and interrogators give a horrific tour, reenacting their treatment of the prisoners, and going through the regimes detailed records, including photographs, to refresh their memories of the horror they took part in. Panh allows Nath to confront them about their actions, but most of them claim that they themselves were also victims, indoctrinated in the regime's poisonous ideology, and too afraid for their own safety to show any compassion for their victims. Panh himself was imprisoned at a Khmer Rouge labor camp as a teenager, before escaping to Thailand in 1979. S21: The Khmer Rouge Killing Machine won the Prix Fran├žois Chalais at the 2003 Cannes Film Festival, and was also selected for the 2003 New York Film Festival. ~ Josh Ralske, All Movie Guide

Nath at one part reads through the "confession" book of Mey, and notes all the people (50-60) that Mey had implicated as well as all the supposed crimes included using too much fabric. His boss was the one that implicated him so the growth of suspected criminals of the state grew exponentially as a result of torture that gave false results.

Don't be too free!"
If you're too free, why not die at birth?

It was amazing how the guards still hold to the old paradigms by even shouting "Determined, Determined". There was a long part of some of the guards playing out how he interacted with the prisoners and described in great detail his actions. And it was easy to see how dehumanizing it was to the prisoners, of course beyond the killing of nearly all people that were sent there.

I figured that something new I would find out about a new horror. They drained people's blood until they were walking corpses and they waited till they exhausted and buried in a pit. This was done whenever the hospital needed more blood. Once or twice a month a few prisoners.

And one last quote from the film...
As we use to say:
Better to make a wrong arrest than to let the enemy eat away at us from within.

Rating: 4 (/5)

PS: A nice blog article about S21 that includes lots of information that correlates with information in this film is at: Return to the Killing Fields.

PS (4-18-2008) HT Pierre France: Recalling Pol Pot's Terror, But Forgetting His Backers

Tuol Sleng - S21 Genocide Museum-YouTube Video

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