Kulikar Sotho ventures herself into her first time director adventure on this emotional journey over the search of a missing film. Starring Rous Mony, Ma Rynet, Dy Saveth, Hun Sophy and Sok Sothun among others, “The Last Reel” tells a story about love, loss and redemption.
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In the city of Phnom Penh in Cambodia. Sophoun, the rebellious daughter of a colonel, lives her life to the limit, being part of a local street gang. But when one day her father returns home with another proposal of marriage, Sophoun flees from her home, which is collapsing for her, and seeks refuge in an abandoned cinema. There, to his surprise, she will meet the owner of the cinema with whom she will strike up a curious friendship, but she will also find an unfinished film from the 70s, a melodrama starring her own mother, who is now ill, showing a young and glamorous woman. A story of the past. A story of a different world and time. It is from that moment on that they both decide to find the missing reel and reconstruct the missing ending from the film.
If i could describe this movie with three adjectives, those would be: Honest, beautiful and personal. Although “The Last Reel” is written by a foreigner in terms of Cambodian residence, the story is the director Kulikar Sotho’s idea, and the characters are based on her own parents, to whom the film is dedicated, aside from the whole victims of the Khmer Rouge era. “The Last Reel” is honest when it comes to treating and representing the violent past of the country. A past where even art, in this case the cinematic one, suffered great losses and repression. Films and film rolls were burned, and artists from the film industry of the country were murdered. Many of the films of the past were lost. In other words, many stories were lost, and this is the main theme of the movie: recovering a story of the past.
The first minutes of the film seem like the typical independent story of street gangs, but little by little, it is transformed into an intimate story that recalls the best works of Zhang Yimou, with all that sensitivity and naturalness. Sophoun, played by Ma Rynet, is the main character of the film. Her work is exceptional, without falling into melodrama or overacting, her role is 100% believable, as is the case with the rest. Her love interest in the story, played by Rous Mony, may not stand out much that much, but every time he is on scene shines. At first, he seems like the stereotypical impulsive young violent teen, but then you see he is a normal person. Then there is the second protagonist of the story: Vichea, the film projectionist played by Sok Sothun. His character takes an unexpected turn at the end of the film, and it is one of the many aspects of the movie that steals your heart. Sophoun and Vichea are two characters who need each other as they meet, forming a truly natural and honest couple.
The story unfolds slowly but interestingly enough to be engaging. It is true that it costs a bit to earn the interest of the story, but after twenty minutes into the film, the trip becomes emotional and memorable. The cinematography of Bonnie Elliott is also praiseworthy, as it is very well crafted and really gorgeous to look at. Also, all the locations and environments are really beautiful.
What cannot be denied is that this movie has true love inside its core, not only for cinema, but for life in general. “The Last Reel” has an implicit love for cinema that in some moments reminds us of “Cinema Paradiso”. All that search for the lost film within the film itself is nothing more than an action to find oneself and to re-encounter with the ghosts of the past. To be able to be at peace with yourself. The reality is that “The Last Reel” is a breakthrough and a strong push for Cambodian’s cinema industry, proving that it can become a powerful one if more films like this are made. For all the stories that were lost and for all the others that are still to be told.