Winner of the 2016 International Critics’ Week SACD, “Diamond Island” embraces nowadays globalization of cinema as it has been co-produced by France, Germany, Cambodia, Thailand and Qatar. This, however, doesn’t keep the story from being very human, or well embedded in Cambodia and its specific socio-cultural conditions.
“Diamond Island” follows Bora, an 18 years-old man, leaving his rural village to work as a construction worker in Diamond Island City. The latter, an actual expanding city near Phnom Penh, is the perfect stage to underline the contrast between the Cambodian golden youth and the poorer part of the population. It also highlights the irony behind the fact that people living in precarious life and work conditions are building a city made for people living in extreme wealth. That being said, it is also ironic that a movie partially produced by Qatar would raise such a topic (World Cup 2022, anyone?).
Bora starts his new life, works, and hangs out with construction-site friends. He then runs into his long-lost brother, Solei. The older sibling has been living in Phnom Penh for the past five years. He brings his brother into his circle of friends. They have motorcycles, they speak English and go out in fancy clubs. Solei seems to despise his former/poorer life (although there is no doubt that it is not just about the social status). He encourages his brother to raise socially. Bora finds himself torn between his background and his present life and his older brother and the promise for a better tomorrow.
Davy Chou’s first feature impresses with its nuance, depth and delicacy. It can be read on different levels and varied topics are touched upon: loyalty, family, socio-cultural conditions, first love, Cambodian economic growth, humans facing transition-times, …
In terms of cinematography, Thomas Favel’s work is very interesting. It has a naturalist approach, notably brought by the many wide and medium shots, as well as the relatively slow pace and the sometimes-hand-held camera. Nonetheless, what makes the film very unique and artistic are the well-thought-out colours, some surprising and beautiful shots, such as the almost-POV one when Bora is learning how to drive, and the split screen.
Sobon Nuon’s natural acting and sensitivity go well with Bora’s innocence and inside struggle. Cheanick Nov does a great job at embodying the hard-to-read yet touching Solei. Although all the actors are debuting, they are never over the top, stay nuanced, and most importantly, match their characters and make them likeable.
In conclusion, “Diamond Island” is worth watching, not only because of the story it tells about modern-day Cambodia but also because of what it tells about humans in general and because of what it brings cinematographically.