Review: ‘A Cambodian Spring’

Documented over a period of six years, this groundbreaking piece of gonzo journalism is made by the Irish director Chris Kelly, who looks closely at the violence and uprisings that began in 2007. It follows a painful and corrupt land conflict over Boeung Kak lake in the Cambodian capital of Phnom Penh, which turns ugly by the minute, and offers a fascinating if not frenzied look at it’s contemporary displaced politics.

Prime minister Hun Sen (ruling autocrat since 1985) mercilessly authorised the Boeung Kak community to be demolished by a private building development company, resulting in forced evictions and violence and inprisonment. With no rehousing plan in place, residents must watch as their homes are destroyed. The injustice forces them into action, but protesters – even the protagonist monk, and the elderly are met with brutality; manhandled, targeted by water cannon and beaten by the police. K


Kelly follows three local activists – two young and fearsome mothers named Tep Vanny and Toul Srey Pov and a charming Buddhist monk, Luon Sovath, whose peers threaten to “defrock” him for his politics, but is championed by the community.

There’s a rawness to the police brutality exposed, using footage shot on a camera-phone at close range. Equally compelling are the human stories at the film’s core, such as the bitter fallout between one-time friends Vanny and Srey Pov, as the former rises to prominence within the UN. Most moving – and enraging – of all is Srey Pov’s young daughter screaming at the authorities to “release my mum”. Over the phone, while Srey Pov is in prison (two years, no trial), she tells her mother: “They won’t hear me if I don’t shout.”

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