Our guest reviewer this week is Sambath Eat who is completing his first year in the MA program in Southeast Asia Studies and is a FLAS Fellow studying Cambodia. He’s currently researching Khmer-language newspapers from the 1950s – 1970s, focusing particularly on advertising and other forms of popular representation to better understand Khmer national identity post-independence. Outside of his formal studies, he is involved with community activities including Khmer Archive Action, the ART of Survival, and the Census 2020 campaign.
At times like these when uncertainty and fear for the future dominate our lives, a sense of being trapped and unable to do anything about it can set in. That is why for this week I recommend a movie that resonates with that angst in hope to help us deal with it better. One Evening After the War or, in French, Un Soir Après la Guerre, is a movie by Rithy Panh that first premiered at the 1998 Cannes Film Festival. The film takes us back to a time in Cambodia where uncertainty and chaos reigned. After the war, Phnom Penh was a dilapidated city abounding in poverty while trying to transition from a tyrannical communist- to a democratic-society. The Khmer Rouge had been defeated, but the city was faced with rebuilding from scratch. Crime and destitution was everywhere.
Rithy Panh’s film addresses the difficulties faced by Khmer soldiers returning to civilian life. The narrative opens with three returning soldiers, then focuses on one, Savannah (Narith Roeun), who had managed to survive the war with all of his limbs intact. After years of a protracted civil war, Savannah, like many of his generation, had known only suffering and fighting since his infancy. Losing all of his family to the war, his uncle Sôn, who lives in Phnom Penh, is all that he has got left. Rejecting the allure of the petty crimes with which many of his soldier friends are involved, Savannah tries to make it as a kickboxer while living with his uncle.
One evening at a dance hall Savannah meets 19-year-old Srey Poeuv who he immediately falls in love with. She is one of the bar girls who from time to time work as an escort for rich patrons. Initially, Srey Poeuv resists Savannah’s advances but gradually she accepts him. The two lovers try to make it in society, but the prevalent economic hardship keeps them from achieving that goal. When Srey Poeuv tries to break away from her occupation with the bar business, she is threatened with death. Poeuv’s large debt and the prospect of never being able to move up the social ladder force Savannah to team up with one of his soldier buddies in a robbery scheme. This propels the story forward to its tragic climax.
You can watch One Evening on YouTube or Dailymotion under its French title Un Soir Après la Guerre. But if you prefer a DVD format you can find one in Suzzallo’s media collection; search under its French name or its Khmer transliteration: Rātrī muay kroy sanggrām.
Keeping with Phnom Penh as my fulcrum, Phnom Penh Noodle House is my recommendation for takeout. Sam Ung, who survived the Khmer Rouge, founded the restaurant in 1987 and it quickly became part of Seattle’s International District scene, attracting people to its signature noodle soup that is filled with prawns, fish cakes, pork, and thin rice noodles. Phnom Penh Noodle House stood as a ‘hub’ for the large Khmer population who migrated and are now living here in Seattle. Ung passed his business to his three daughters, Dawn, Diane, and Darlene in 2013. They continued his legacy until 2017 when Dawn’s son was in a car accident and suffered a severe injury. Dawn was plunged into financial crisis as she tried to cope with the medical expenses, therefore forcing the family to close the restaurant temporarily.
But with help from the community and through an Indiegogo money raising campaign, the restaurant is now reopening. Its new location is in the Thai Binh building at 913 S. Jackson Street and you can find them virtually on Facebook . They offer takeout or online ordering at https://phnompenh.hrpos.heartland.us/ Check out Phnom Penh Noodle House if you want to try some authentic traditional Khmer food which is hard to come by outside of Cambodia. We are lucky to have them back and to be able to enjoy their delicious food again.