Directed by Rithy Panh

Cannes Special Screening 2016


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  • ★★★★★ review by DavidClarke on Letterboxd

    Exile is one of the films viewed that’s left me with the most to think about and the least to say. So I’ve spent the last two weeks considering the film rather than writing.

    One thing I keep coming back to is the Walter Benjamin notion of the “unconscious optics” of film. In “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction,” Benjamin’s compares film-making’s ability to move through time and space to psychoanalysis. What psychoanalysis did for the words we speak, uncovering them for their hidden meanings, Benjamin’s notion of unconscious optics speaks to the things we learn about the things we see every day, by looking them through a new light.

    Exile explores the unconscious optics of Panh’s past. Instead of recounting the past, he explores it. The words spoken are elements of things he might have heard, taken out of their original context. The slogans, the language of revolution, it all becomes part of the soup of his life. It might even be noise at times, evoking the lack of clarity hearing words about humanity while living through an inhumane experience.

    The elements that ring clear are the smaller moments. Preparing food. Eating. Sleeping. Waiting. Looking. These are commonplace activities in just about every human life, but by seeing the way Panh did them, and seeing it in the context of his experience, and seeing them done in isolation by an actor they take on new meaning.

    This also lets the moments feel honest in a way memory rarely does. When I remember, I am rarely sure of the truth, but I tell a story that feels like the truth. I get facts wrong. I mess up timelines. But one thing I wouldn’t forget: the way I prepared my breakfast. The way I brushed my teeth. The small habits. The way I’d blow my nose quietly in a classroom to avoid bringing attention to my third cold of the year in high school. The way I’d hit the snooze button four or five times. This is the stuff that makes up our life. And to view these moments in Panh’s life, but within the context of the tragedy, we’re able to understand it in a new way that facts don’t offer.

    Obviously nobody pushes a rock over across a room as another one magically appears. But to be human is to understand how that feels (if not to the extreme of Panh’s experience). It’s moments like this that add metaphorical and emotional grandeur to the mundane.

  • ★★★★★ review by DavidClarke on Letterboxd

    Incredible use of a single location. These images speak volumes, even as the text obscures (at least in the translation). The image of the rocks being pushed, of the clouds, of the nest being made for the three eggs - the next generation - all will stick with me long after viewing this. I don’t know how this plays for someone with no context for Rithy Pahn or Cambodian history, but I suspect the images would hold power regardless.

  • ★★★★ review by Diogo Vale on Letterboxd

    Rithy Panh once again shows how well he can translate an idea into an image. Free from the constraints that defined his previous feature, The Missing Image, he gives Exil a far more poetic tone, even though the resulting film is still in many ways contained and discreet. At the heart of the film there are a few objects (the portrait of the mother; the director's safe conduct papers) but the film hardly exists for them,or because of them. Exil is bigger than that, encompassing reflections on identity, ideology and memory.

  • ★★★½ review by James Berclaz-Lewis on Letterboxd

    Installation (f)art.

    PS: this is actually good.

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