Cambodia made an appearance at Cannes this week when Talking to the Trees, a movie set in the Kingdom, was screened at the international film festival on May 18 and 20.
Speaking to the Post from Cannes, writer and producer Guido Freddi talked about his motivations for making the movie and how he hoped it would raise the profile of the issue of child abuse.
The film follows the story of Mia, a bored, bourgeois photographer from Paris who witnesses her husband abusing a young girl in a Cambodian brothel.
Mia is driven to rescue the child and return her to her family in a remote village, even at great personal cost.
Talking to the Trees eschews the typical documentary approach to child exploitation and seeks to open the eyes of a wider audience with a classic screenplay and a road-movie vibe.
“Rather than creating a documentary that would appeal only to those who are already sensitive to the problem, we wanted to make a movie with a strong narrative, adventure and emotion that would reach a broader spectrum of viewers,” Freddi said.
Freddi wrote the script with his wife, Ilaria Borrelli, who also stars as Mia.
He explained that after the birth of the couple’s second child, they became more sensitive to the problems of children worldwide.
They began closely following the issue and felt compelled to make the film, in part as a campaigning tool.
Freddi and Borrelli approached the writing process with studious dedication, spending several months in Cambodia doing research and, with the co-operation of NGOs, interviewing victims of sexual exploitation.
They didn’t want to make a depressing movie, though, and Freddi explained that this was why Cambodia was such a perfect location.
“Cambodia has the right spirit. The country feels hopeful, it seems that everyone thinks tomorrow will be better, there is such a positive attitude.”
Filming took place in Koh Kong province over a period of seven weeks last February and March, and the team took full advantage of the beauty and diversity of the region.
The villages, beaches, rivers and forests of the Cardamom Mountains provide a stunning backdrop to the action.
“We avoided using well-known sites such as Siem Reap. They’ve already been used by much bigger movies, and we didn’t want to seem clichéd; it wouldn’t be appropriate while exploring such a serious issue,” Freddi said.
A small production budget meant Freddi couldn’t afford to bring a crew from Europe. Instead, he hired young locals and taught them film-making skills at a week-long ‘boot camp’.
Not only did this offer great experience to 15 young Cambodians, several of whom have gone on to work in the film industry in Phnom Penh, but Freddi believes this local connection brought something special to the process.
“We had such intimacy with the local community that we could get close to reality. We would ask a local tuk tuk driver to take us to his favourite beach and find the perfect location.”
After the creative flurry of production and the glamorous publicity of Cannes, the arduous process of promotion and sales continues.
It could be several months before Talking to the Trees can be screened in Cambodia, but Freddi made a promise to the Khmer people he worked with that it would be shown here.
Film-lovers and campaigners alike should be waiting with bated breath.
To contact the reporter on this story: Anna Brown at [email protected]