Samsara: Death and Rebirth in Cambodia, a film by Ellen Bruno, 30 minutes, available from Samsara: Film Library, 22D Hollywood Avenue, HoHo-Kus, New Jersey 07423.

Rebuilding the Temple: Cambodians in America, a film by Claudia Levin and Lawrence Hott, 60 minutes, available in English and Khmer from Direct Cinema Limited, Box 69799, Los Angeles, California 90069.

In Samsara: Death and Rebirth in Cambodia, Ellen Bruno retells a Cambodian Buddhist prophecy as scenes of Phnom Penh move in silent slow motion: “A darkness will fall on the people of Cambodia. There will be homes but no people in them. There will be roads but no travelers upon them. The land will be ruled by barbarians without religion. There will be blood in the streets as to touch the belly of an elephant. Only the deaf and the mute will survive.” This chilling vision, brought to life during the rule of the Khmer Rouge, is quietly, affectingly portrayed here while voices of Cambodian survivors tell their stories. Clearly shaken and deeply hurt, these people are shown rebuilding their lives and evidencing a resilience and dignity that draws on the very beliefs challenged by the holocaust.

Throughout this documentary (photographed on location in Cambodia by Ellen Kuras) we hear recitations of Buddhist texts, but this is neither a religious nor a polemical work. Full of personal stories and poignant images, Samsara is an at times painful, authentic, respectful, and in the end, moving look at suffering and perseverance. The issue of violence within a Buddhist country (and Cambodia is not alone) will have to wait for a longer film to be adequately addressed.

Srey on her wedding day, from Rebuilding the Temple. Courtesy of Leah Melnick.


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