Taking in Enemies of the People is a little like watching a Cambodian Shoah, but as if we had access to the director’s methods and motivations instead of just the astonishing results. Chronicling his ongoing project to track down and document those responsible for the Khmer Rouge’s late-’70s reign of terror, co-director Thet Sambath, whose father (directly) and mother (indirectly) were murdered by the regime, draws on decade-long relationships he forged with both Cambodia’s former second-in-command, Nuon Chea, and average peasants who were enlisted in the killing fields (often, like Claude Lanzmann, he wins their confidence under questionable pretenses). He has crafted an extraordinary historical testimonial: While he and co-director Rob Lemkin don’t operate with the cool ruthlessness of the Shoah director, the results are often as violently direct. They may black out one subject’s face at her request—a retreat from the cruelty of Lanzmann’s hidden cameras—but when they’re framing a tight close-up of an otherwise sympathetic farmer talking about how he killed in cold blood, or taking in the pained expression on Chea’s face when Sambath at last reveals his own family history, the pair’s probing filmmaking feels like anything but a compromise.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on July 27, 2010