October 16, 2021

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‘White Building’ Review: A Slow Portrait of Rapidly Dynamic Urban Transformation

4 min read

The opening shot of Kavich Neyang’s “White Building” has a strange, different beauty. The cries of the pressure-cooker, which introduces the more bizarre parts of Jean-Charles Bastin’s score, are a drone camera, steadily though it was mounted on the tracks of the sky, sinking over the so-called structure, looking down. Even on the roofs of this huge, itchy Phnom Penh apartment complex there seem to be thousands of stories to tell – it’s no surprise that Nayang’s depressing, confusing, slightly anxious features make the appearance a little lost to navigate them.

Seen from this angle, the building – Neyang’s childhood home, which was repeated in his shorts and documentaries, and in which he collected several footages before it was destroyed in 2017 – looks like a complex scruffy map of an abandoned continent. It’s cracked concrete with cracked concrete and crossed with electrical wires, dirt is gathering in its corners and dirty vents are staring at the dangerously dangerous fuse box and it’s still not clear if anyone still lives inside. But as soon as we see it from the side, the laundry railing is happily overturned, the countless brightly painted doors stand against the broken bricks and broken cement, it is clear that the building is blended with life and at least Nang (Horizons Best Actor winner Piseth Chhun). With dreams.

Beneath her long corridors, in her hundreds of apartments, she prays on a home-made altar and promises that if she can win a glamorous dance competition, she’s training with her team (really giving her two best friends bounce, boy band-ish routine) ), He will provide “a chicken and seven kinds of fruit”. Attracting its lively, first-third, Niang’s film makes a small buck in Nanam Pen’s neon night out, chasing girls and dancing with his squad mates Tol (Sovan Tho) and Kanha (Johnny Min).

But with her resigned mother (Sokha UK) and diabetic father (Sithan Hout) at home, the prospects are not so promising. Residents of the building কম a mix of low-income casual workers, artists and former civil servants-have been told the structure will be demolished. Depending on the size of their unit, they are paid a small amount per square meter as compensation. Nang’s father, a spokesman for an informal residents’ association, said the meetings were becoming increasingly confusing, divided between those who wanted to wait for a better offer and those who wanted to take money and run – the meeting was held off the roof on the urban skyline and across its many cranes .

Meanwhile, the dilapidated building is rotting around their ears. When the dreams of Nang’s fame begin to wane – the toll leaves the country and the Kanha couple – fall from the stained roof and the patchwork of mold bursts into obscure plasterwork. At the same time, in somewhat obvious parallel, Nang’s father’s toes begin to turn black with gangrene which threatens to rise to his feet. He refuses to go to the hospital, preferring instead to rely on folk remedies made with honey and domestic spices.

It’s a shame that no matter how loud the clock of destruction is sounding, the pace of the film – which will never break – slows down dramatically. Action slackness, even Douglas Sioux’s reliably handsome camera work can do a lot for us to invest in such a passive hero. Both Nang and his father, though often on the opposite side of an argument, seem crippled by impending disruption in their lives. A brooding composition gives them a silhouette in contrast to an old mosquito net that glows orange in the evening light – it seems to be stuck in their amber. Nang’s dream is “Cambodia’s Next Superstar!” Substituted by his father’s vague evil gaze, strangely wearing a suit, walking in the ruined, desolate hallway of the White Building. The feeling of inevitability surrounds the drama, making it heavy and sleepless.

It’s clear what attracted Chinese powerhouse Jia Zhang to make his debut as Neng’s promising, sympathetic but co-producer. In dealing with humanity in an Asian metropolis that is going through rapid development regardless of human value, the film speaks of Zia’s conventional concerns. But no matter how close the matter is to Neyang’s heart, his film is most compelling when it changes gears, when we see Nang rehearsals with Tol and Kanhar, or when we see the three of them riding scooters through the night traffic, the flirting reports of three girls batting With sitting in a chopping mop. “The White Building” is a slow-moving compliment to Phnom Penh’s recent past, but it claims the Neng Cambodian art-house future in its vivid moments.

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