Saturday, May 9, 2009


I wrote about this wonderful, Oscar-nominated documentary back when I attended the Full Frame Documentary Film Festival in 2008. It's playing a very limited run at the Hollywood Theater just this weekend (matinee times only). I encourage you to see it if you can--or put it in your netflix queue. Here's my review from 2008:

I got to the opportunity to see "The Betrayal (Nerakhoon)" * * * in a rescreening this afternoon. What a powerful film. I am ashamed to say that before today I knew little about the role that Laos played in the Vietnam War, but this film opened my eyes to still more unsettling truths. It is co-directed by Ellen Kuras (the cinematographer of one of my favorite films, "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind," as well as many other films) and Thavisouk Phravasath, who came to the U.S. as a refugee from Laos in 1981 at the age of 13 with his mother and 7 of his 9 brothers and sisters. The U.S. ran clandestine operations in Laos during the war, and Phravasath's father was a soldier in that U.S. operation, which involved dropping more bombs on Laos than were deployed in World War I and World War II combined. The bombs targeted both the North Vietnamese on the Ho Chi Minh Trail and the communist Pathet Lao guerillas. Operations in Laos were ultimately unsuccessful, the government that had cooperated with the U.S. was routed, and the new Pathet-controlled government was hostile to people like Phravasath's father, who was taken away to a reeducation camp and not heard from again for 15 years.

The film tells the story of Phravasath's family, using footage collected from 23 years of friendship between the two directors. Phravasath, who took questions after the rescreening and who I had the great honor of meeting briefly, referred to the film as his "daughter," and spoke of his experiences with remarkable humility and generosity of spirit, as well as passion for the victims of the ripple effects of our current war, yet with not a trace of anger. The film is remarkable in its clear-eyed depiction of the types of serial betrayals that are so typical of wars and their aftermath. Phravasath himself fled across the Mekong River alone on two inflated plastic bags at the age of 11 and survived two years alone on the streets of Bangkok before rejoining his family once they were finally able to escape Laos to Thailand. Expected to be welcomed into the U.S., he and his family instead met with astounding poverty and social injustice on the streets of New York City. The struggles of his mother, who married at 16 and experienced loss after unspeakable loss, is particularly haunting in this retelling.

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