Les gens de la rizière/Neak sre (The Rice People). 1994. Cambodia/France/Germany/Switzerland. Directed by Rithy Panh. Screenplay by Panh, Eve Deboise. 35mm. In Khmer; English subtitles. 125 min.
The daily staple for millions of Cambodians, rice is nonetheless associated with the dark years of the Khmer Rouge, 1975–79, when the paranoid and barbaric policies of Pol Pot’s Super Great Leap Forward led to mass starvation and disease. (One empty slogan declared, “He Who Has Rice Possesses All.”) Loosely based on Malaysian author Shahnon Ahmad’s novel No Harvest but a Thorn and on the real life—tragic yet unbowed—of a woman he encountered in a refugee camp (the protagonist of Site 2), Rithy Panh’s The Rice People is an affecting mix of neorealism and folklore, observing the cursed fortunes of a peasant family on the Mekong Delta and imagining the recovery of a Cambodian rice culture that has nurtured bodies and souls for thousands of years. Courtesy JBA Production