The film is adapted from the autobiographical sections of Rithy Panh’s book The Elimination (published in 2013 by The Clerkenwell Press), exploring the story of his family before and after the Khmer Rouge entered Phnom Penh. Pol Pot's communist regime overtook the Cambodian capital on April 17, 1975. Panh was eleven years old. Citizens were rounded up and sent to agricultural labour camps. With the ostensible purpose of eliminating class divisions, all personal effects were confiscated. Numbers replaced individuals. Torture and executions were undertaken for the slightest infraction. Hunger soon dominated. The regime was built on mass deprivation and fear. In a bold imaginative leap, this story is pictured via carved figurines (created by Sarith Mang), overlaid by narration.
‘For many years, I have been looking for a missing picture: a photograph taken between 1975 and 1979 by the Khmer Rouge, when they ruled over Cambodia...On its own, of course, an image does not prove mass murder, but it prompts us to think, to meditate, to build history. I searched for it in the archives, in old papers, in the villages of my country, in vain. Now I know: this image must be missing. I was not in fact really looking for it; would the image not be obscene and insignificant? Thus I have made it up. What I offer you today is neither the image nor the search for a unique image, but the image of a quest: the quest that cinema allows.
Some images must be missing always, always be replaced by others. In this movement there is life, struggle, difficulty and beauty, the sadness of faces lost, the comprehension of what was once: sometimes nobility and even courage, but never oblivion. ’ - Rithy Panh