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Un cinéma sans image: The lost history of Cambodian film
Presented by Dr Leslie Barnes as part of the Literary Studies Seminar Series
Davy Chou’s Le Sommeil d’or (2011) is the first attempt to recount the forgotten history of the Cambodian film industry, a rich and storied archive that all but disappeared with the Khmer Rouge victory in 1975. To make the film, Chou returned to a homeland that is not fully his to capture the memories of a handful of people with whom he shares neither language nor experience. The result, I will suggest, is a work of palimpsestic memory that layers space and time in an attempt to conjure the traces of this lost cultural heritage. Notably however, Chou uses almost none of the surviving footage from the period in his film. This decision, perhaps unusual given the filmmaker’s objective to make the past visible, encourages us to interrogate the ubiquity of the image in relation to the work of memory. Further, having never ‘left’ the homeland on which he now trains his camera, Chou crafts a film that simultaneously privileges and problematizes the idea of return, offering a post-migratory imagining of the second generation’s relationship to the notions of place and belonging, culture and heritage.
Leslie Barnes is a Senior Lecturer in French Studies and the author of Vietnam and the Colonial Condition of French Literature (Nebraska, 2014). She is currently working on a project on narrative representations of sex work in Southeast Asia and has published on this subject in Screening the Past, French Cultural Studies, and Australian Journal for French Studies.