While there are haunting shots of a nearly deserted Phnom Penh, as well as moving testimonies from newly liberated Khmer Rouge survivors, I found the footage of Ieng Thirith by far the most striking element of "Kampuchea: Death and Rebirth," which was screened at Meta House Friday. (The film was the first to be shot in Cambodia post-Khmer Rouge, by East German filmmakers Walter Heynowski and Gerard Scheumann.)
In interviews conducted shortly after the Khmer Rouge were ousted from power, the social affairs minister saddles the Vietnamese with responsibility for most of the country's misfortunes. The rather portly Thirith claims the Vietnamese manufactured the current famine in Cambodia to make the Khmer Rouge look bad.
When pressed to explain the Tuol Sleng torture center, she replies that "the Vietnamese are very cunning about this." The Vietnamese, in Thirith's opinion, are also responsible for the murder of half a million Cambodians and were the ones who targeted intellectuals for execution because intellectuals "are patriotic."
The charge that the Khmer Rouge killed everyone who wore eyeglasses is, similarly, Vietnamese propaganda, she says.
"But you see that myself, I am wearing glasses," Thirith says, smiling slightly.
The whole performance is certainly unsettling, and it's unclear whether Thirith is just trying to protect herself or actually believes what she is saying.
The rest of the film, which is certainly worth seeing, champions the Vietnamese as Cambodia's saviors and villainizes the "Pol Pot-Ieng Sary clique."
Comments from some of those interviewed, whom I'm assuming must have been coached: "Everybody tried to save themselves, to escape the terror of the clique," and "I can only hate that clique of traitors."
Blogger Andy Brouwer's thoughts on the film are available here.
*Pictured: Ieng Thirith.