Loung Ung‘s nonfiction book, First They Killed My Father, became in 2017 Angelina Jolie‘s film of the same name. Both are about the Khmer Rouge rebels in Cambodia in the 1970s, as witnessed by Loung as a young girl.
Loung and Jolie collaborated on the grave screenplay, which accurately presents the Khmers as hostile leftists who condemn “individualism” and “private property”—and who are murderous brutes. Needless to say, they have gained control of Cambodia, and, subsequently, the invading Vietnamese add to the bloody, hair-raising content.
Alas, cinematic cliches crop up, as when a sudden gunshot drives a flock of shrieking birds out of the trees; but Jolie is capable of some fresh and commanding shots as well. Examples are when Loung pushes a lone corpse away from a river bank and a scene of desperate children scampering through shallow water to escape the bullets of Khmer and Vietnamese soldiers.
A Netflix presentation, First They Killed My Father was filmed entirely in Cambodia. There is familiar material here, but it is still a staggering picture important for its existential concerns.