In Siem Reap, a young woman haunted by loss, melancholia and the imperfections of memory, dances with two men – one is her husband, the other is engaged. I Have Loved, a feature film which explores the human conscience, time and lost memories, was shot in and around the temples at Siem Reap. It premiered at the 24th Singapore International Film Festival and was nominated for Best Cinematography in the Asian Feature Film Competition last year. 7Days caught up with the directors Elizabeth Wijaya and Lai Weijie, who are trying to get the film screened in Cambodia.
Why did you decide to film in Siem Reap?
While we were working on our Masters, we went for a three-week trip around Cambodia in 2008. This was something we’ve always wanted to do since learning about the temples in a Southeast Asian studies class. Watching Jonathan Demme’s Swimming to Cambodia (1987) in a film studies class also intrigued us. The line “A country beyond my imagination and much too far to swim to” left an indelible mark on our imaginations. When we finally arrived, we bought a guidebook at Angkor Wat and tried to visit every temple listed – and we almost managed to do it! It was during an afternoon spent climbing to Pre Rup that the idea for the film started developing and we talked through it while in the town of Siem Reap. From the start, we knew that we wanted to shoot in Hotel de la Paix and Pre Rup in particular. We were interested in the contrast and parallels between the two structures in terms of their aura and presence.
Were you satisfied with the end result?
Let’s just say that, if we could do it all over again, we would. But we would not have done things the same way as we would like to think that we have grown from the process. One thing that far exceeded our expectations was the hospitality we received from the people, whether local or based in Cambodia. It was a source of motivation to have people who supported our idea.
How did Cambodia and its history provide the backdrop to your film?
Although knowledge of Cambodia’s history shaped the film in terms of our thematic interest in mourning and engaging with the past, we agreed early on that we wanted to create a solipsistic world. A favourite quote of ours from Kierkegaard goes “it is not an individual who goes under, but a little world”. We wanted to investigate memory, love and loss against the backdrop of the city, without overt socio-political references. We wanted the landscape to speak for itself.
Why do you think Cambodians will enjoy your film?
In all honesty, we do not expect our film to be a crowd pleaser, whether in Cambodia or elsewhere, as the film is slow-paced and not plot-driven. Still, we hope that Cambodians will appreciate the fact that the film respects the beauty of the landscape and the city of Siem Reap.
What did you know of the film scene in Cambodia before you started filming?
To be perfectly honest, we had a very limited idea. On our first trip to Cambodia, through the couch surfing website, we stayed at the home of Jason Rosette, who organises Cambofest and through conversations with him, we found out more about the film scene in Cambodia.
Was it easy to arrange permission to film here?
The general filming permit issued by the Cinema Department was efficiently issued and we are grateful for that. The Angkor Archaeological Complex required special permits, which took longer. Individual locations such as a scene with street food were arranged by our local production manager.
Have you become interested in Cambodian cinema, and what do you think is needed here?
We are hoping to have a chance to catch Golden Slumbers, the Cambodian documentary that premiered in the Berlinale this year. One thing we hope to see would be more cinemas opening in Cambodia.