HotDocs review: Enemies of the People [2010, Thet Sambath / Rob Lemkin]

Toronto – “How many holes of Hell will I be in? I will never see the sun as a human being again. I am desolate.” The person who said this believes in reincarnation. I have heard very few people who honestly detest themselves to that degree. Enemies of the People showed us several. 30 years ago on the Killing Fields of Cambodia, indirectly or directly, with and without comrades, they murdered millions. Apocalypse Now was horrendous, but Marlin Brando and Martin Sheen was just passing through…

“… a ditch there, by the banyan tree. One in that rice field. Two more that side… we didn’t want to put too many in each…”
“I was the first to come back… the decomposing bodies made the rainwater boil…”
“I got used to it, and I used to always carry human gall bladder for drinking… now I am disgusted.”
“I bathe in the pond, but I know there are bodies in there so I don’t drink…”
“… I choose the nation. Individuals I can cast aside… these people need to be solved (sic).”

People still have to live on that land. They don’t have the option of leaving; but they do have the need to find out who did and ordered the killings. So Thet Sambath did. His family was destroyed during the purge. Father killed by cadres, mother died during child birth after a forced marriage, brother mistaken for elements of another faction within the regime. He poured a decade into getting close to and wrangling confessions out of the commanders (he spent years getting close to Brother number 2, the second in command in the Khmer Rouge regime, above) who did the deed. I really don’t have too much to write about this film in the same way that I can’t have much to write about going to heaven/hell. There’s really no other way to present this type of material. It is heavy but also nuanced. And when I came away from the film, knowing that Sambath got some type of reconciliation, while the leaders and commanders faces War Crime trials and self-loathing, there is no vindication, just an overwhelming sense of dread. Whether anyone told the whole-truth, whether you or anyone detected a hint of remorse/deceit, or if the film will be used in the tribunal, is no longer important. I guess I’m just disappointed by history. Don’t say I didn’t warn you: this is not a bad documentary, but you’re unlikely to be glad that you watched it.

Posted on by Gary in Everything, Hot Docs, Reviews