Insider chat with… Neary Adeline Hay

Insider chat with… Neary Adeline Hay


Insider chat with…

Neary Adeline Hay

30 April 2018

The young French-Khmer movie director explores silence and need for remembering with Angkar, her film (premiered in Cambodia in March) about her father’s return to the place of his sufferings long after the Khmer Rouge trauma. Excerpts from her conversation with Latitudes.

Ta Saeng

This village in the Preah Vihear province, Far North, was where my father spent his years of forced labor and constant fear of violent death. For a denizen of the big city, expelled from Phnom Penh in 1975 during the mass deportation of urbanized citizens ordered by the Khmer Rouge, this was terra incognita. He discovered the power of the natural world there, how to survive in a harsh, often hostile environment. At some point in the film, going back to a place where executed prisoners were summarily buried at the foot of a majestic tree, seeing that there is not a single trace of human corpses, he just remarks: “The tree ate up them all.” There, I realized he has been caught between rock and a hard place, between two faceless powers, Nature and “Angkar”(The Organization, in Khmer).

Traditions and denial

When he went back there with me for the first time, in 2010, I had a camera but my father was still at the beginning of the process of facing his past, not ready to share… I discovered it was, above all, his sense of guilt for being alive, for having escaped death unlike all of his family and most of his friends. I was born in Kompong Thom (from a “forced marriage”, my parents were forcibly wed by the Khmer Rouge like so many couples of that era), I grew up in France mostly unaware of that tragic past.

After that first trip, we came back in 2016 and this time it was to film, to find relevant questions more than definite answers. And, for my father, to pay respect to the dead, in prayers often shared by those who had deprived him of his freedom, former tortures and collaborators of the regime. I often had to rein in my urge to challenge them while filming and listening to these people, who were Khmer Rouge agents and are still in complete denial of what happened. All along the film, my father attempts to gently prod them, to get some explanation for their behavior, yet basically he understands the major challenge to their denial is the fact that he is still here, willing to finally pass down his experience to his daughter, to the new generations. At one moment, he exclaims, astonished somehow: “Hearing these guys, it’s as if those three years, eight months and twenty days in my life never happened, never existed.” Yet he knows they did, now, because he has overcome his own silence.


I am just intending to open doors, ask questions, help foster a better dialogue between generations. Even if I am more a Parisian than anything else, I feel a deep connection with Cambodian youngsters. Obviously, the way the country has been dealing so far with the darkest pages of its modern history is lacking consistency, of official and collective commitment to assess the past, but we are not here to dwell on negative considerations, nor to lecture people about how to heal from ancient wounds.

At the end of the film, young villagers dance during a wedding party in that same village where my father was sent by the Khmer Rouge. The music is some hypnotic, repetitive Cambodian techno. The scene is not cheerful, nor entirely bleak. It is the way I see daily life in most parts of the countryside, devoid of really stimulating prospects but with some sense of community, of belonging together. Nobody starts with a blank page, especially in a country torn by civil war and foreign aggression. We just need our elders to write meaningful messages on our page, and us to learn how to read it.

Presented at several movie events in Europe and in Phnom Penh, Angkar will be soon at the Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festivals.


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