Generally speaking, the act of creation is also an act of understanding, of approaching something which has been unknown thus far or is completely new. Rather than deliver an absolute truth, most artists and their works rather show a version, a perspective or a way of getting closer to a new theme, concept or idea. However, this privilege does not belong solely to the realm of the arts since all of us use communication to give us and those around us an understanding of these aspects of our lives, while at the same time we are aware of the borders of, for example, our language of being able to properly and authentically deliver something which is absolute.
Perhaps this approach is at the core of Korean filmmaker Seo Won-tae’s “A Letter from Phnom Penh”. While the documentary follows the travels of a researcher in Cambodia exploring the locals way of utilizing and harvesting bat guano for their way of ecological farming, it describes also an approach to communicate some of these experiences to the woman’s father. The various letters, written in French and delivered via voice-over, give insight into the impact some of these moments we see on camera had on the woman, and also her methods of communicating them.
As her travels take the woman to the town of Battambang and finally to the capital Phnom Penh, the journey becomes increasingly spiritual. The various scenes in the jungle, on the farms and with the families in the small town share a distinct sense of originality, of tranquility, Especially in contrast to the more stressful environment within the more urban areas, Seo Won-tae’s images may highlight a certain longing for this life, not out of misguided romanticism, but out of a sheer love for nature. In this context, the frequent pieces of advice of the woman to her father (in the letter we hear in the film) further focuses on this particular sense of longing.
In the end, “A Letter From Phnom Penh” is a deeply poetic film, a film about experiences and the way to communicate them to those we love. Supported by beautiful photography, this is an experience which can be shared by the audience, for the topics of this film are quite universal and deeply profound.