It put faces and names to artists who, behind the scenes, arguably propelled pop music for decades. It’s enjoyable and informative but was the Oscar winner for Best Documentary of 2013, 20 Feet From Stardom, head and shoulders above all the rest?
Here’s the case for “No”.
Make no mistake, putting faces to names is important, the most votes by a learned group of peers means a film counts for something, doesn’t it?
Every time, for a film to matter, does it need to blast the form apart for the sake of doing just that? Should it turn every head? Should it only be, you know, IMPORTANT?
No, it doesn’t need to do any of that. It can tell a story really well, but there’s head and shoulders above storytelling too and all too often, when we’ve had a chance to see those runners up, it feels the award should have ended up on a different mantle.
The Hunt over The Great Beauty for best foreign film? Anyone? The Act of Killing for best documentary? Any thoughts on that? Nice as 20 Feet was and all.
And this film. The Missing Picture. A “documentary” from Cambodia nominated as best foreign “film”. Humbling and humble in tone, it uses photos, newsreel footage and carved clay figures standing in for the principals of the story. It should have at least tied with The Hunt for best foreign film. Or maybe with The Act of Killing for documentary. That it crosses those defining lines in masterful fashion helps make the case for “someone was robbed”.
Pol Pot rose to power in Cambodia after the American bombings and subsequent invasion of the country by the North Vietnamese Army. From 1975-1979 his Khmer Rouge brutally initiated cultural reforms in an attempt to return the country to a “pure” agrarian society. Systemically evacuating the populace from the cities and purging the intelligentsia in the process, thousands died. From exhaustion, famine, torture and execution.
Director Rithy Panh survived. His family did not. Like its worthy counterpart The Act of Killing, this very personal memoir tries to subvert the documentary format. Its use of clay figures in no way distances the viewer from this dire time. No learned talking heads offer historical context or analysis. For such an intimate subject the film seems ego-less. There’s a single, short snippet of the director himself playing on a small television screen and the film is narrated by Randal Douc. It’s Todd Haynes by way of Faith Ringgold stylistically and bears comparison to Marwencol, another film about personal exorcism. The influence of Panh’s father, a poet and teacher, is keenly felt.
In closing, let’s be clear – no suggestion was made Panh made this movie as a trophy magnet. The Academy tallied the votes. The winner won. Does the Academy allow write-in votes?
With its sadly etched ache of a loss now decades old, the film never descends into a political screed. It’s the rare example of a such a small thing that is more epic and affecting than can ever be imagined.
Is that criteria in the Academy by-laws? Shouldn’t it be? – [DVD] [Blu-Ray]
DVD Release Date: 6/10/14