There’s a tried and true formula for box office success in Phnom Penh’s multiplexes: either release it in 3D, or make sure there’s plenty of blood.
Foreign imports like the latest instalment of the gore-ridden Final Destination franchise and a recent rescreening of Thai horror film The Ghost of Mae Nak have both had long theatrical runs in recent months; presumably the periodic bloodcurdling screams and freak accident eviscerations give the city’s teens a good pretext to cuddle up to each other.
While Khmer cinema in the two decades after independence was indebted to aesthetic traditions learned and imported from France, these influences have receded in tandem with the growth of regional film industries and the dominance of the eye-candy blockbusters churned out with dull regularity by Michael Bay et. al. in Hollywood.
Both Legend and the Cineplex have taken a gamble in showing off-kilter buddy movie Untouchable, notwithstanding the film’s status as the highest grossing French film in history after 2001’s Amélie.
Philippe, a wealthy art dealer and quadriplegic suffering from that quintessentially continental brand of ennui, decides on a whim to hire a carer, a Senegalese immigrant named Driss who lives in one of the many bleak public housing tenements on Paris’s outskirts, after the latter steals a Faberge egg from Philippe’s mantle.
The pair warm to each other gradually, each studying the other like scientists cataloguing alien life, before slowly slinking into the habits of their opposite, smoking spliffs on midnight jaunts through the city’s posher suburbs and learning the understated pleasures of ear massages from callgirls.
Inimitably French in its humour, the film is also a skillfully understated exploration of the class divide between the country’s elites and migrant communities in the banlieues, doubtless a topic of some currency here.
Judging by the audience reaction at the premiere, the Khmer translation seemed to do justice to the film’s comedic subtleties and hilariously crass sex jokes, although most Cambodian laughs were reserved for Omar Sy’s contagious giggling fits in his portrayal of the temperamental yet fun-loving Driss.
Westec, the company responsible for the film’s local release, expects Untouchable to have a three to six week run in the city, depending on how well the film does at the box office.
The first French film to screen at a multiplex in memory, Westec hopes to promote more of the country’s cinema in Phnom Penh if this venture is a success.
To contact the reporter on this story: Sean Gleeson at [email protected]