Review: First They Killed My Father | Redbrick | University of Birmingham

Review: First They Killed My Father

Film Critic Ida Elmdal Thagesen reviews Netflix's biographical-thriller First they Killed my Father

Today, millions of refugees are crossing borders as a consequence of war and genocide. In contemporary Myanmar 1 million Muslims are estimated to flee from their regime as a result of ethnic cleansing. Among the victims are thousands of children. First They Killed My Father depicts how a child experiences genocide: This is done in a both horrifying and beautiful way through the memories of Loung Un, who recalls what the Cambodian genocide in the late 70’s did to her and her family.

Director Angelina Jolie's film beautifully accomplishes its main goal: to live up to the autobiography on which the film is based: A Daughter of Cambodia Remembers. Seen through her 5-year old eyes, the movie shows how Loung Un understands – or more precisely, does not understand – the genocide.

Setting off in a Cambodian middle class home in the late 70’s, the movie starts by giving an insight into Cambodian culture seen through the warm and loving Un-family.

Angelina Jolie's film beautifully accomplishes its main goal
Despite a huge number of cultural differences between the English and Cambodian worlds, the Un family’s thoughts, hopes and needs are just like ours, and Loung is just as charming as most 5-year olds: She refuses to eat her rice during dinner, she is sad that she can't dance as beautifully as her older siblings, she happily greets her father when he comes home from work, and she really wishes to bring her beloved red dress when the family suddenly has to leave their home. Marco Beltrami's joyful soundtrack at this point underlines the sincere family feeling, but also fills you with fear from the very beginning: What is going to happen to these people, who are not just potential victims, but loving human beings like you and me?

Actor Sareum Srey Moch manages to encapsulate both the innocence and the desires of a young child: Despite being a clever and curious kid, continuing close ups on Loungs face show how confused she is when her father lies about his profession to avoid being executed, when her red dress for unknown reasons is taken away from her and when she is reaccommodated into a poor, rural village after the long, though journey.

Sareum Srey Moch manages to encapsulate both the innocence and the desires of a young child
Many moments are filmed from Loung's perspective, with the character rarely speaking throughout the film's runtime. This lack of dialogue makes you realise how isolated Loung is.

Some frequencies are turned upside down: A man in a mask continuously shows up randomly during the movie. He is intimidating, frightening. It instills in you a sense of the confusion that must have been in the head of a 5-year old who is taken away from her home and her family – and then made a child soldier: Why is this happening? Why do soldiers suddenly come after her father? Why does her older sister die?  Why is she taken away from her mother? Why does she have to learn to fight as a solider? To follow how Loung faces these questions is what makes the movie both brilliant and heartbreaking.

VERDICT: First They Killed My Father is not about politics. It is about the impact politics has on people. Angelina Jolie has managed to craft a film that effectively captures the real experiences of a  child suffering through the horrors of genocide. It was released on September 15th, can be seen on Netflix,  and it is definitely worth its 2 hours and 15 minutes.

Rating: 8/10

Article by Ida Elmdal Thagesen 


19th October 2017 at 9:00 am

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