First They Killed My Father (2017)

I knew very little about Cambodia's history. Actually, I knew nothing at all so I took advantage of Angelina Jolie's latest movie, First They Killed My Father, to learn something about it, specifically about the brutal Khmer Rouge regime.

Set indeed in Cambodia in the 70s, as the Khmer Rouge invades the country, 7-year-old Loung Ung (Sareun Srey Moch) and her family are forced to leave their home and live in a horrific work camp. As you probably guess from the title, her father (Phoeung Komphaek) is killed and her family is forced to split in order to survive.

Like I said, I didn't know this part of history so I don't know whether the film is accurate or not, but I couldn't help but notice that the film doesn't dwell deep enough into the historical aspects of the story and to me, someone who didn't know the "backstory", was a little confusing. There isn't much of a plot either, to be honest. Nothing really happens other than the main characters going from place to place.

That being said, the story Angelina Jolie told, Loung Ung's true story (the film is based on her novel "First They Killed My Father") is compelling, moving and very powerful. It's told through the eyes of a child, and that's what made it work for me. That allowed me to feel her pain, her struggles, her doubts and her loneliness.

There's very little character development in this but at least the characters feel real and they are quite deep too, especially Loung. She's a young girl who finds herself in the middle of chaos without really understanding what's going on. She feels lost, and the young Sareun Srey Moch was able to convey all that bewilderment so well to make me feel it.

As for the direction, it's a little uneven and it seems as if Jolie wasn't sure whether to make a documentary or a film. At times First They Killed My Father feels extremely realistic so much so it's haunting (the minefield scene to name one), while in others it's very emotional. There are several documentary-like aerial shots that show the work camps that feel very detached, and then there are others that are way more intense and impactful on the audience such as the close-ups of Loung. The cinematography by Anthony Dod Mantle is gorgeous though and the score is very atmospheric and fits the film.


  1. I do want to see this film because what Vietnam and Cambodia went through after the Vietnam War is gut wrenching. What I find strange is that I was 11 when the war ended and I don’t remember a thing about it..nothing! My dad always watched the news and I remember whe Nixon left office, I remember the Munich Olympics but nothing on the war. If you get a chance, you should see The Killing Fields which is an excellent film about the last days of the war. The second lead, Dr. Hang S. Ngor won an Oscar and lived through the war but lost his family and his fiancée in it. Unfortunatel, he was murdered a few years later in a mugging.

    1. I guess they never talked much about this. Thanks for the suggestion, I'll watch The Killing Fields as soon as possible.