The survivor-perpetrator encounter and the truth archive in Rithy Panh's documentaries


Morag, Raya. 2015. “The survivor-perpetrator encounter and the truth archive in Rithy Panh's documentaries”. In Post-1990 Documentary Reconfiguring Independence, eds. Camille Deprez & Judith Pernin, Edinburgh University Press , p. 97-111.


This chapter proposes an analysis of Rithy Panh's documentaries, S21: The Khmer Rouge Death Machine (2003), Duch, Master of the Forges of Hell (2012) and, to a lesser degree, The Missing Picture (2013), as so-called ‘perpetrator documentaries’ — that is, documentaries that focus on the figure of the perpetrator, while unravelling the long-time enigma of the ‘ordinary man turned perpetrator’. It suggests that the survivor–perpetrator encounter staged at the heart of S21 and Duch is a major characteristic of Panh's perpetrator documentary cinema, aiming at undermining the perpetrator's ideology of extermination and reconstituting the human condition. It also describes the cinematic strategies through which these three post-genocide documentaries constitute a cinematic ‘archive of truth’. Identifying the major tropes that most potently mobilise this archive examines the role of Panh's perpetrator documentaries as a transgenerational site, one that confronts the post-1979 generation with the double enigma: of the ‘ordinary perpetrator’ and self-genocide. In the midst of Cambodia's struggle over the post-Khmer Rouge national narrative, Panh, the survivor, has put forward a new episteme with which Cambodia's collective post-traumatic memory should be re-established.

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Last updated on 05/28/2018