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‘Funan’: A Cinematic Journey into the Reality of Communist Hell

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This is a film released in 2018 by French-Cambodian director Denis Do, which portrays in detail the communist hell created by Pol Pot’s regime. Do opted for a high-quality traditional cartoon film to nicely contrast the extraordinary beauty of the landscape with the terrible reality of the historical drama it narrates.

Pol Pot’s regime exterminated 21% of the Cambodian population in just 44 months. And the reason was that the Khmer Rouge was the only one to really carry the communist project to its ultimate consequences. The scale of the genocide in Cambodia was, in scale, the largest and fastest of its kind.

Do shows through the story of an ordinary Phnom Penh family whose journey through hell begins in 1975. I warn you, I will tell you about the film and you will still want to see it:

The film portrays when the Khmer Rouge decided to empty the cities by forcibly driving the population into giant agricultural communes. On the grueling journey, a family is robbed and separated by communist guards who then keep a desperate woman from trying to find her son and her own mother.

The communes are fields of forced labor, hunger, misery and corruption. When the father tries to find his lost son, he is captured and beaten. When they desperately need medicine for an old man and turn to a woman who prostitutes herself to the guards, the old man dies without treatment.

The lost son is assigned to another commune with his grandmother and, desperate from hunger, tries to steal food along with another girl who is captured and ultimately killed. When a communist guard decides not to kill a fleeing relative, he is discovered and killed. While they are being transferred from one commune to another, the father manages to save the daughter of a communist officer who has fallen into a well, which infuriates the mother who reproaches him for helping their executioners.

The young communist girl saved by the father tries to thank the mother, now forcibly separated from her husband, with some food which she refuses despite her hunger. The daughter, still with the mother, is raped by a communist guard and makes the gut-wrenching decision to hang herself. The rapist is burned alive in a straw hut in retaliation and the one who did it is murdered, along with an old woman who had nothing to do with it but is capriciously accused of complicity.

Years go by, the elderly die of hunger and people disappear to end up in gigantic mass graves. Finally, the Vietnamese invasion of Cambodia quickly dismantles the Pol Pot regime, which gives the father a chance to flee, find his nearly dead wife, and together they try to find their lost son. They almost accidentally succeed in the midst of collapse and genocide.

The three remaining members of the once large family flee to the Thai border. On the way, they meet up with other survivors, among whom hides a genocidal communist official who tries to pass himself off as a victim, but is identified because he is neither starving nor skeletal and is lynched by angry victims.

When the family arrives at the border, the father is discovered by Khmer Rouge guards. He sacrifices himself by getting himself followed and killed to get his wife and last living child across the border to Thailand.

I recommend you watch Funan remembering that the Cambodian communist regime’s foreign minister Ieng Sary stated, “the Cambodian revolutionary experience is unprecedented. What we are trying to bring about has never occurred before” and that the Cambodian communist party set among its 1976 four-year plan objectives to give the people 50% less than 100% of their material needs from 1977 onwards while having its starving population locked up in forced labor camps it called communes. The communist hell, whose human scale Funan portrays, never happened because of inability or error but because that was the goal of the revolution.

Guillermo Rodríguez is a professor of Political Economy in the extension area of the Faculty of Economic and Administrative Sciences at Universidad Monteávila, in Caracas. A researcher at the Juan de Mariana Center and author of several books // Guillermo es profesor de Economía Política en el área de extensión de la Facultad de Ciencias Económicas y Administrativas de la Universidad Monteávila, en Caracas, investigador en el Centro Juan de Mariana y autor de varios libros

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