Angkor Awakens: A Portrait of Cambodia

Even among genocides, the Khmer Rouge's butchery stands out.

The Cambodian genocide of the late 1970s has been a potent subject for documentaries in recent years, and Robert H. Lieberman’s Angkor Awakens: A Portrait of Cambodia can be viewed as the third in a trilogy that includes Rithy Panh’s The Missing Picture and John Pirozzi’s Don’t Think I’ve Forgotten: Cambodia’s Lost Rock and Roll. Where Picture recreated of Panh’s memories of the genocide and Pirozzi’s Forgotten explored the vibrant pop culture the Khmer Rouge destroyed, Lieberman looks at the broader picture of how it happened and how the current generation of Cambodians move past their parents’ lingering trauma — clinically diagnosed as baksbat, or “broken courage” — and make a better world for themselves.

There’s no lack of horror to be found in any aspect of the Cambodian genocide, but one of Angkor Awakens’ more disquieting elements is that not only have there been enough genocides in human history for patterns to emerge, but Cambodia’s was anomalous in that it wasn’t borne from existing historical tensions — say, millennia of scapegoating Jewish people. Rather, it was a single people turning on one another. And like most political pogroms, the biggest targets were what some now call “coastal elites,” those darn bespectacled book-readers who think they’re so smart but who are out of touch with the “real” people. Thank goodness history never ever repeats itself.

Angkor Awakens: A Portrait of Cambodia
Rated PG-13.
Opens Friday at the Clay Theater.

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