A generational conflict is at the heart of "The Last Reel"

Actors Ma Rynet and Sok Sothun
Actors Ma Rynet and Sok Sothun star in the new feature film "The Last Reel", which is set to have its local debut at the Cambodian International Film Festival. RAFAEL WINER

A generational conflict is at the heart of "The Last Reel"

Hanuman Film’s The Last Reel is an engaging piece of cinema that deals with the ongoing fall-out of the Khmer Rouge regime on Cambodia’s families and film industry.

The film – which is set to have its local premiere at the Cambodian International Film Festival on Friday – tells the story of Sophoun (Ma Rynet), a rebellious young woman dating a badboy gang leader, who refuses to conform to her parents’ ideal of the obedient daughter and be married off to the son of one of her stern father’s powerful friends.

Sophoun’s increasingly unwell mother (Dy Saveth) suffers catatonic states and nightmarish flashbacks her children do not understand, while her army colonel father (Hun Sophy) is rarely around and has an unsettling penchant for violence.

Following a fracas at a beer garden that sees her boyfriend motor off to chase down a rival, Sophoun stumbles upon the chain-smoking caretaker of an old cinema – which is being used as a moto parking lot – watching an old film starring her mother when she was young.

When the mysterious projectionist (Sok Sothun) reveals that the final reel of the film is missing, Sophoun decides to re-shoot it herself in a bid to remind her mother – now seriously ill – of a happier time. But in the process, she reveals some dark secrets about her parents’ past.

The film – the directorial debut for veteran Cambodian line producer Kulikar Sotho – is at base about the generational conflict currently under way in Cambodian society made more complicated by the traumas inflicted during the Khmer Rouge regime.

However, the film also works as a meta commentary on Cambodia’s film industry. Could The Last Reel itself help revive the legacy of the industry’s golden age in the 1960s and 1970s?

The jury’s still out on that one. Despite receiving the Spirit of Asia Award at the Toky International Film Festival, it is certainly not a perfect film. The acting is generally only functional, the direction flat and the script tends to be a bit heavy-handed; occasionally it feels more like a history lesson than a mystery thriller. It could have used a harder edit, and with all the plot twists at the end, things end up getting a bit tangled.

But there are many scenes with genuine emotional weight and some nicely textured, complex characters. This is not a film with one-dimensional villains or heroes, and while some manage to achieve a measure of closure, there’s no easy happy ending.

While The Last Reel may not herald a new golden age, the fact that such a film has even been made bodes well for the future of the Cambodian industry. And as Sophoun says in the film: There are so many more stories to tell.

The Cambodian premiere of The Last Reel will be at the opening of the Cambodian International Film Festival this Friday night at Aeon Mall’s Major Cineplex and will show again on December 9 and 10. For a full program see Saturday’s Post Weekend or go to cambodia-iff.com.

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