Mercury Cinema, Wed Sep 10
The title says it all really. Ruin starts in a bad place and heads south from there. It’s hard to know what drives someone to make a film like this. In particular, why would an Australian film maker make a film like this about Cambodia? Do we need another lesson in how badly we can mistreat each other? Another film that exposes the predatory nature of men towards vulnerable women? Do we need to be told again that stripped of the supports of civil society we revert to something akin to animals?
Perhaps the fact that it is set in Cambodia makes it different? More exotic? More important? (I expected/assumed that there’d be some link back to the atrocities of the Pol Pot era but if there is a connection it’s left up to the viewer to join those dots). Perhaps it’s designed to shock all those wealthy Westerners who holiday in Cambodia into realising there is still a deep, dark and nasty side to life there?
This is a bleak outing. Granted, taking us down into the abyss with a lost couple who find themselves wandering the streets and towns of Cambodia trying to survive and find some meaning in their lives is artfully managed. Intervals of sound that are not quite music fracture any sense of temporary well-being. Excessive use of blur, uncomfortable close-ups, and frequent silhouetting of human figures strip away the humanity of the rapists, pimps and murderers.
Things improve when the lost couple leave the city, and slowly, ever so slowly, they find hints of redemption from their violent criminal ways, and begin to believe that trusting others may be possible. The simple song of a boatman offers some peace, and for one bewitching moment the ex-prostitute can stop worrying about survival and let her hands dance in the graceful expression of Khmer culture in the dark light of night. And at story’s end they even manage an intentioned smile.
But it’s a hard road getting there and despite what the Venice Film Festival judges may think, I’m not sure whether many would consider it worth the angst.
by Michael Coghlan
Ruin screens again at Mercury Cinema, Lion Arts Centre, on Sun Sep 21.