The opening scene of Polen Ly’s narrative short shows a young woman praising photographs of her deceased parents.
As part of building the Lower Se San 2 hydroelectric dam in 2018, the Bunong, an Indigenous group, was forced to leave their village and was destroyed.
“Ly spent two weeks filming the movie in a village around 250 kilometres north of Phnom Penh.
It’s more about wanting to be heard by the girl than spirituality, according to Ly.
To return to the village.
The opening scene of Polen Ly’s narrative short shows a young woman praising photographs of her deceased parents. Soon, it’s clear that she and her brother are spending their last day in their small Cambodian town before moving the next day to Phnom Penh in search of better jobs. Before they leave, the sister wishes to pay a final visit to their parents’ graves, but the brother declines and leaves. She follows him and adds, “If you don’t want to, I’ll go alone.” There is no speech in the sequences accompanying her on her solo trek. However, there are a lot of sounds as she paddles through the water and navigates to what she and her brother refer to as “the old hamlet,” which is now submerged.
As part of building the Lower Se San 2 hydroelectric dam in 2018, the Bunong, an Indigenous group, was forced to leave their village and was destroyed. Ly’s fictional account is based on what transpired. The people have been moved to a nearby relocation site, where they now live in blue-roofed homes that are the same as the ones they left. Ly claimed that the people couldn’t change the residences given to them and had no choice but to live in these “doll houses.” This hydropower dam has caused a fractured interaction between people and nature there, according to Ly. The conflict between the need to maintain traditional lifestyles and the push toward modernization—”one who wants to go extremely fast and the other who longs for a slower way of life”—is represented by the siblings, according to him, as “a metaphor for the hamlet.”
Ly spent two weeks filming the movie in a village around 250 kilometers north of Phnom Penh. Because COVID-19 was locked down, the crew he had planned to work with couldn’t get there, so Ly hired a few villagers to work with him. Before filming, he trained them for two to three days and borrowed several neighbors’ props. Ly told me that this made the production process more potent because “the two actors were real peasants whose lives were affected by the real-life hydropower dam.” It also caused difficulties because, as Ly said, “I didn’t know their ethnic language.” It inspired me to think of a more visually appealing approach to telling the story.
Ly stated, “I want this movie to have a universal impact.” He explained that whenever an issue arises inside us, we always try to address it by moving forward. But he insisted that accepting the past is a prerequisite to moving forward from it. According to Ly, the sister’s reflective journey is about more than just respecting her parents. According to Ly, returning to the village is motivated more by a desire to be heard by the girl than by spirituality. It’s an endeavor to help her heal in a certain way.