Angelina Jolie co-produces, co-writes, and directs this adaptation of the memoir by Loung Ung, which recounts the author’s horrifying childhood experiences under the murderous Khmer Rouge regime in her native Cambodia.
Between 1975 and 1979 Cambodia's Khmer Rouge regime committed a genocide that resulted in the deaths of as many as three million people. Loung Ung survived.
The second youngest of seven children born to upper-middle-class parents in Phnom Penh, Loung leaves her comfortable life behind when the Khmer Rouge army storms the city in April 1975. As she flees with her family to the countryside in an old pickup truck with only a small suitcase each, gone are the days of afternoon dance parties, breezy balconies and long, lazy lunches. Concealing their bourgeois roots and her father's past as a high-ranking official, they eventually settle in a labour camp, where luxury now means secretly roasting crickets under the cover of night.
Based on her deeply affecting personal memoir, First They Killed My Father: A Daughter of Cambodia Remembers, Ung's story is powerfully brought to the screen by writer-director Angelina Jolie (who appears as a guest in this year's In Conversation With... programme). Her textured script, complemented by Anthony Dod Mantle's lush photography, balances vivid moments of everyday life with the sweeping terrors of war. Scenes of shocking violence and cruelty are coupled with meditative dreamlike passages that evoke Terrence Malick's The Thin Red Line. But the weight of this tragedy is offset by the strength of its protagonists. Young Srey Moch Sareum delivers a moving and expressive performance as Loung Ung. Intelligent and resolute, Loung carefully observes the changing, destructive world around her. Clinging to the special bond she shares with her father, she is determined to survive so that the memories of a life gone by can live on.