First They Killed My Father (2017), directed by Angelina Jolie, is based on the memoirs of a young girl’s life during the Cambodian genocide in 1975. The story is told from the perspective of Loung Ung as her world is turned upside down when the Khmer Rouge rise to power in Cambodia. The film was nominated for a Golden Globe Award and BAFTA Award for Best Foreign Language Film in 2018. YouTubers Chadwick Armstrong, Austin Burke and MovieCore share their thoughts on this Netflix release.
It checked all of my boxes for seeing a good movie, an interesting story, I was learning something, the actors were good … the cinematography was great, there was just so much about this movie that I loved.
Having had no pervious knowledge or historical context about the Cambodian genocide, YouTuber Chadwick Armstrong gives major props to Angelina Jolie for retelling such an enthralling story, leaving him feeling shocked, disgusted, and amazed in an emotional rollercoaster. The YouTuber admitted at first glance, he thought the film was a documentary about Cambodia, which didn’t seem very interesting. But after watching the film, Armstrong is thrilled by the performances of the actors and authenticity of the story, which was told in Khmer, the language of Cambodia.
I love that it’s in their own language, that they didn’t Americanize it.
YouTubers Austin Burke and MovieCore also give praise to the performance of the characters noting that though there isn’t much dialogue throughout most of the film, their facial expressions and body language expresses so much you could tell exactly how they were feeling.
I could see when these kids were scared, when they were trying to be strong … I felt what the characters were feeling just based on their facial expressions.
One element of the film the YouTubers feel was a great attention to detail is the focus on the narrative of the young girl as opposed to the more political aspect of the situation. Burke gives an example of when the adults catch the kids doing something wrong, the reactions from the adults or the Khmer Rouge leaders are never shown, only the reaction and expressions from the young girl appear. This again emphasizes the impact it has on her life from her perspective as a child.
It doesn’t give you everything you want to know but it gives you everything you need to know. And when the adults would catch the kids doing something wrong … it would never show their face … I think it’s because she doesn’t want to remember the faces of those who committed those horrible acts, that’s the kind of detail that makes me love film.
YouTuber MovieCore finds it impressive that for a movie with a completely Cambodian cast, completely in Khmer, Angelina Jolie is able to direct her performers to evoke certain emotions or convey a certain message across and overcome an obvious language barrier.
Just the fact that Angelina Jolie directed this movie with basically no actors that could speak English is absolutely insane … I’ve dabbled in learning other languages before and a lot of things do get lost in translation or get misinterpreted … so it’s really easy to mess that up.
One knit pick Burke has on the film is the depictions of the flashbacks and dream sequences, in which he feels can be left out because it interrupted the flow of the film. Burke notes that Angelina Jolie is still quite new to directing and feels the film struggles in balancing scenes that portray realism and scenes trying to portray character building.
The flashbacks and dream sequences she kept having, they didn’t really work for me … they were all filmed very oddly and felt out of place.
Overall Burke describes the film as one where you “get attached and when these horrifying events happen, you feel them. This gets gruesome at times, but it doesn’t feel out of place, it’s a very well-done film.” MovieCore says the movie succeeds in conveying “the pain and suffering of the people who are oppressed for basically no reason and how unjust, unruly, and unwarranted it is.” Armstrong exclaims “holly crap I’m so glad I did” after his initial hesitation to watch the film.
YouTubers Chadwick Armstrong, Austin Burke and MovieCore review new movies and TV shows on their channels regularly.