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French screen siren Catherine Deneuve sits in a room at the Raffles Hotel Le Royal
French screen siren Catherine Deneuve sits in a room at the Raffles Hotel Le Royal. Charlotte Pert

Screen stars celebrate film heritage, reveal next steps

Cambodian director Rithy Panh has revealed details of his new colonial-era documentary during a star-studded week of film that also brought French screen siren Catherine Deneuve to the city.

Speaking a few days after the opening of the second annual Memory International Heritage Film Festival, Panh said Cochinchine will feature footage of the colonial era from Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam and some African countries.

“I want to explore the images from this time: how people work, how people live, how people are shown on film,” he said, adding that he is interested in how images have evolved from the 1800s to today’s ‘selfie generation’.

The film is named after Cochinchina, the European title for a region in southern Vietnam that the French colonised between 1862 and 1954.

Deneuve, a guest of honour at the film festival, is well-known for her starring role in Indochine, a 1992 film in which she played a plantation owner witnessing the end of the colonial era and the rise of Vietnamese nationalism.

The actress said her visit to Cambodia brought back memories of when she was filming Indochine in Vietnam and Malaysia.

“The heat, the flowers, the trees, the roofs – all that really reminded me of Vietnam where I was 20 years ago,” Deneuve said.

The actress is the second cast or crew member from Indochine, which won an Oscar and earned her a nomination, to visit the country this year. The director, Regis Wargnier, came to Cambodia in January to film an adaptation of Francois Bizot’s Khmer Rouge memoir Le Portail (The Gate).

While Deneuve was rumoured to be among the cast members, she confirmed she was not and that her next project will be La Tete Haute (Head Up) with French female director Emmanuelle Bercot. Filming starts this summer.

Director Rithy Panh at the Bophana Center
Director Rithy Panh at the Bophana Center. Charlotte Pert

The actress said she was honoured to be at Memory International Film Festival because she believes the restoration of classic films to be very important.

She said: “I feel I have to do something, as a reward to cinema. I try to travel with my films. French is a far away language today in the world, so it’s a way of trying to maintain a relation with other cultures.”

Of Panh’s most recent film, The Missing Picture, which was nominated for an Oscar this year, she said: “I was so moved. It’s really so very impressive, and so personal, and very original – it’s a very interesting film.”

She added that although she would love to work with Panh, he is focusing more on documentaries in Cambodia where there is little need for a French actress.

Panh, who praised Deneuve as a “great actress”, said he hopes young Cambodians will be drawn to the festival because of the cultural education it can offer them.

“Even if you have a very good diploma from a university, if you have never read or watched a film or never listened to classical music – this is all part of education too. If you have no culture you really cannot develop the country.”

Memory International Heritage Film Festival will run until Sunday. For information including the full schedule visit memoryfilmfestival.org.

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