One may never fully know today, here in the ascendant West, how perplexing and puzzling it is to know your culture is no longer the great civilization that it once was, but Rithy Panh's film about the people who love and work in and around the temples of Angkor affords an empathetic insight that only an accomplished work of art can give. Droll, sharp observations, sometimes of dubious accuracy, form a lattice of exchanges between the people of the paddies as the Angkor Khmer, the People of Angkor, ponder the deep issues of their life, culture and history. It is the very whimsy and poignancy of their conversations, whether about the marketing savvy of a young peddler of tourist tchotchkes, the fate of a fighting rooster called Lemon Soup, or the Buddhist monks who meditate among the ruins, that make us realize some stunning essential truths about life in Cambodia today. It is only appropriate that as the filmmaker allows us to listen in on these gently humorous encounters, we catch occasional glimpses of camera-toting tourists in the background, and we realize that the personal stories tower above any great monument.
Born in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Rithy Panh is a graduate of the Institut des Hautes Etudes Cinématographiques (IDHEC). Among the films he has directed are the short feature Le Passé Imparfait (Past Imperfect) (1988), and the documentary Site II (1989), which won the Grand Prix de la SCAM for Best Creative Documentary that year, plus a special award at the 1990 Festival du Réel in Paris. His fictional feature film, NEAK SRE: Les Gens de la Riziere (NEAK SRE: The People of the Rice Field) was screened at the 1994 Cannes International Film Festival and won a Silver Screen Award in Singapore. Panh's work has been selected for many other film festivals around the world, including those in Fribourg, Rio de Janeiro, Leipzig, Strasbourg, Montreal, Tokyo, London, and Bombay.