SIFF '09: BROTHER NO. 2 Review

Like James Leong and Lynn Lee's Passabe, Jason Lai's documentary Brother No. 2 touches on similar themes of reconciliation, but not just after atrocities committed in a village, but an entire nation with almost 2 million perishing under the Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia in the late 70s. It's genocide that the world had turned its back on when it happened, only to wake up in recent times, and to pursue justice against humanity after some 30 years.

How does one find peace after you experience a tragedy, with injustice committed against you? You'll either seek revenge at whatever the costs, or to forgive and move on, which is an extremely hard act to follow as you'll have to put aside a basic human response to get back at others who have done you wrong. But that's what Soy Sen, the anchor subject for director Lai's film, and others have chosen to do, despite having experience first hand, or fall victims to under the harsh Khmer regime.

Soy Sen is a survivor of the Kraing Ta Chan Prison, where one of the prison chiefs had ordered the killing of his father, to which he witnessed, but is presented the dilemma when Soy himself learns that his life had been spared by the very same man. How does one then seek an answer and a closure when your survival to this very day had been owed to the very same perpetrator of an act, which they had keenly subscribed to given the revolutionary times, and deep rooted sense that they did no wrong?

It's an interesting and powerful documentary not just for that intriguing subject in Soy Sen whom the filmmakers found, but on the general attitudes of the Cambodian people on the whole looking for peace through reconciliation, living amongst those who have done extreme wrong. There are different ways an individual would seek closure, and the film presented a religious aspect to it, being a predominantly Buddhist nation. I'm unsure you can label doing so means to rely on it like an emotional crutch or to hide behind spiritual teachings, but the film presented some very interesting insights into beliefs like Karma and Reincarnation, and a mentality that one's suffering now is due to negativity from the past, and one's punishment for wrong doing will come in the next life, therefore normalizing tempers for an immediate, often irrational, reaction.

A fine balance in presenting both the micro and macro aspects of the tragedy, Brother No. 2 makes for a good introduction to the historical background through the use of simple, but effective animation, and to have interviews from both sides of the coin. What could be a coup for the production was the interview with the number 2 man (hence the title) after the deceased Pol Pot, Nuon Chea, and getting him to open up and speak about his policies, beliefs and ideology. Music by local band Lunarin also provided some wonderful tracks that pepper the film throughout.

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