Enemies of the People Reviews
"Enemies of the People" is a documentary that covers the lives of members of the Khmer Rouge after the genocide in Cambodia during the late 1970's and early 80's. The documentary aims to dig deep within the members and to get them to admit to what they have done and how they are living with it in the present.
After nearly 10 years in the making, the documentary is the first and, currently, only film from director Thet Sambath. Sambath was motivated to investigate the reasons and the truth behind the killings as he had been affected by the genocide, by losing both his parents and his brother. The documentary follows him on his amazing journey to discover the answers that he seeks.
"Enemies of the People" is a documentary that will shock the audience due to the fact that the information displayed on screen in the documentary is jaw dropping and vivid. On top of the fact that every word of what is described about the past is completely true. The movie provides a shrewd and unbiased viewpoint allowing for the audience to be engaged throughout the movie and see that the interviewees are just as regular people as the audience.
Sambath acquaints himself with his the members of the Khmer Rouge first before inquiring about the past and why the committed the actions that ended the lives of many. Through this process the audience gets to witness another side of the killer and gets to hear what they have to say and feel, providing a powerful experience that no other documentary can come close to replicating.
"Enemies of the People" is not a movie for all audiences as the material throughout the film is very strong and may be a bit much for some to handle. The film is definitely a triumph in modern journalism as Sambath fearlessly delves into the minds of the murderers and reveals them to be normal people that are ashamed of what they have done.
"Enemies of the People" is one of the most powerful, shocking and insightful documentaries ever made and will be revered as a marvel of documentaries to come. The movie is an absolute must see as it will stun and leave viewers in awe as to how truly magnificant the content displayed is and as to how brilliantly the movie is crafted.
It was the same everywhere I went in Cambodia, people willing to tell of the past with only the slightest prompting. There was my driver in Phnom Penn, who pointed out one of the killing fields, bones showing on the surface, a place not visited by tourists, one of the many charnel houses in a country turned into a charnel house. In Siem Reap another driver, the son of a doctor, told me that throughout the time of the Khmer Rouge his father had to pretend to have been a baker. For virtually the first thing they did was kill all the doctors.
Last September I made reference to Enemies of the People (To be good was to be dead), a documentary made by Thet Sambath, a Cambodian journalist, in collaboration with Rob Lemkin, a British documentarian. Then I had only seen it in part; now I have seen it in whole, in a limited screening in this country. It's a tremendous piece of work, one that he built up over a number of years, all at his own expense, in money and in emotional effort.
It's also a work of great patience. In looking for answers to the question why, why so many deaths, why so much suffering, over a period of years he steadily gained the confidence of Noun Chea, known as Brother Number Two alongside Pol Pot, Brother Number One. Even the nomenclature is as sinister as the mirthless grins.
This a documentary which also serves as a personal odyssey; for Sambath lost his family in the Killing Fields, a fact he conceals from his interlocutor until the very end. Yet despite this there is not a trace of bitterness or accusation in the film, merely a sense of patient bewilderment.
Oddly enough the interviews with Khoun and Soun, now elderly men, two of those who carried out the killings on Chea's behalf - he is thought to have been personally responsible for as many as 14,000 deaths - are oddly poignant. These are not SS or Gulag guards; no, they are simple peasant farmers. Khoun, firm in his Buddhist convictions, said that it will be many lifetimes before he returns to human form, all on account of his crimes, the terrible burden he carries. It is terrible. On the film-makers urging he was persuaded to demonstrate how he killed, using a plastic knife on a nervous fellow villager. "I slit so many throats", he said in the process, "that my hand ached, so I switched to stabbing in the neck."
These killings were always carried out at night, by the light of flaming torches, while nearby stood the children of the victims, their mouths covered to stop them screaming. Both Khoun and Soun recalled that they subsequently removed the gall bladders of the dead, drinking the bitter bile in the belief that this would protect their skins. A woman remembered the water-logged fields, bubbles rising as if boiling when the bodies decomposed. Another still refuses to drink the local water because of the bodies buried all those years ago.
Meanwhile the principle interview with Chea proceeds. At one point he meets Khoun and Soun, saying that they are not to blame, for they had no intent, and that Democratic Kampuchea was a 'clean regime'. The dead are still the enemies of the people, though one has to wonder who exactly 'the people' are if not the dead. But, as I said before, when Sambath finally reveals the fate of his family - he had hitherto pretended that his mother and father had died in the 1980s - Chea slips from monstrous abstraction to genuine human sympathy.
Brother Number Two is now in detention, awaiting trial for crimes against humanity, crimes against the people. Enemies of the People is a compelling documentary, a small journey into the heart of darkness.