Rain Falls From Earth: Surviving Cambodia's Darkest Hour (2009)

Theatrical Poster
Culture & Society, Documentary, Politics & Government, Social History
Steve McClure Steve McClure
Sam Waterston Sam Waterston
Em Chem Em Chem
Monirith Chhea Monirith Chhea
Vollevann Kaylor Vollevann Kaylor
Sandy Kelley Sandy Kelley

7.1 / 10 - Overall Rating

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Review by Ginose
Added: March 18, 2010
There are some horrific sociological experiments that governments have forced upon their people throughout the ages; some of the absolute worst of them the result of the Communist uprising during the latter-part of the 20th century. The most famous of which clearly being the spread of Communism from North Vietnam, escalating into one of the most brutal and horrible conflicts in world history. During this spread of the Communist idealism, many south Asian countries felt the spread of these ideas through various uprisings, some political, though many felt the bordering tensions of revolution.

Some that felt the hold so strongly did feel the eventual strangling effects of war, many taken over by the Communist regimes uprising in their war-torn nations. One the most terrifying of these was the rise of the Khmer Rouge as they seized control of Cambodia right at the end of the Vietnam War. One of the most terrifying in that it was not a act in cruelty, negligence or sociopolitical control; it was merely an attempt at applying the principles of communism, and it failed.

Doing a life-study documentary about one of the most atrocious tests in the capacity of human nature is a daunting project to undertake, that is most certain. It's very difficult to find an effective means of telling the true stories of what happened when presented with such material, after all, there are always two sides to every story. There are far more practical (if not tactless) routes to take, such as a more romanticized adaptation of the events portrayed. Certain filmmakers have had a hand at trying to capture the true terrors of the "darkest time in humanity's history" (the Second World War) by making films based around the horrific practices of Nazi Germany's Death Camps and Japan's experimental research compound Unit 731, only to be left with shockingly exploitative accounts of the events, rather than a subjective view on what many would call humanity at its worst. The truth is, there IS always two sides to every story and, no matter what a filmmaker's opinion on their subject matter is, it should still be taken into account that different people saw different sides of it all.

That is why I appreciate efforts in exploring atrocities such as these through a documentary rather than a film (though certain experiments in mixing the two have produced rather entertaining and informative works), in that it can generate a much more real experience for most (so long as it's a factual documentary and not just the 2/3 strategy certain other fat-asses seem to receive such acclaim for) and present a logical point of conflict in the viewer's mind. A documentary should be about provoking thought rather than presenting one-side of a subject and pandering it until it's all that makes sense.

This is a concept that "Rain Falls from Earth" seems to understand... to a point. Sure, if you watch a documentary more-or-less TELLING you that it's about the horrible atrocities incurred by the victims of the Khmer Rouge regime, from the perspective of victims and ex-members of the group you can be pretty sure it's going to take a particular side of the argument, and it does, however, perhaps on purpose, perhaps incidentally in its use of archival interviews with Khmer Rouge leaders and ex-officers, you can see that the Khmer Rouge (for the most part) were certainly not an evil group of people and, to a certain degree, they actually wanted, quite zealously, for communism to work for the betterment of the people. I mean... it DIDN'T, clearly, but it's true they tried.

This doesn't excuse the horrible atrocities they were responsible for, of course. The horrific impact of all of this is greatly reflected in a series of rather heart-felt and hard-hitting interviews with survivors of the regime's control, and they do more than their fair-share of reflecting on the absolute horror of the whole four-years they were under the control of the Khmer Rouge. All conveyed very tastefully, if not quite statically, in the traditional interview fashion. It works in conveying its messages, and relaying the story through adapted eyes, but it certainly does seem to make the 95-minute run time seem to drag on quite ridiculously and, without any hard-hitting recap of the events, it all comes off as a softened attempt to mime the intensity of a work like "Hearts and Minds", but without the benefit of existing in and documenting the era.

It's a great reflection of a truly dark time in Cambodia and, indeed, the world, but it doesn't evaluate itself very well. Its presentation is honest, but small-sighted, and it drives really hard to work as a recounting of the survivor's memories of the times rather than an actual documentary. It's a good film, it's a good perspective-based retelling, but it doesn't seem to drive at any real point, and it certainly doesn't serve as a great observation of the Khmer Rogue regime.

A damned informative work with some dry presentation and no real direction to speak of, but I'll still speak highly of it to anyone I can, if just to have the story told.

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