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PostPosted: Sun Apr 17, 2022 9:37 pm 
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KAVICH NEANG: WHITE BUILDING (2021) - NEW DIRECTORS/NEW FILMS 2022

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SITHAN HOOUT AND PISETH CCHUN IN WHITE BUILDING

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Phnom Penh’s Rapid Urban Transformation seen autobiographically though the eyes of one family in 35-year-old Kavich Neang's assured debut feature

A young man's dreams of dance-star fame start to fade as the massive, decrepit building he calls home comes under threat from developers in this year's Cambodian Oscar entry.

A dampness-stained low-rise apartment building in Phnom Penh has been bought and is doomed. It's a place where director Kavich Neang himself lived growing up. It housed artists, teachers, and government employees near the center of town. That couldn't last in the face of the country's rapid recent transformation. In this film, Kavich Neang depicts his displacement from the actual historic building (constructed in 1963) where he had lived most of his life.

Stephanie Bunbury describes the eponymous building in her Deadline review as "stained with tropical rain, its cement falling off in chunks, its cat’s cradles of improvised electrical wiring truly shocking, in every sense of the word." Director Kavich Neang grew up here, and memorialized it in short films. Here he builds a feature around it, and a young man, and his retired sculptor-teacher father. This is a beautiful film, notable for its slow, philosophical quality and its noble silences.

Our main guide to this world is young Nang (Piseth Cchun, who won the Best Actor award in the Horizons section of the Venice Film Festival for his recessive, hypnotically calm performance) who is the moving force in a three-man dance crew, his eyes fixed on the prize of Cambodia’s Next Superstar, its X Factor, with them performing their hip hop- inspired routines wherever they can, on the street or in restaurants or clubs, to practice and build up confidence. "Riding three-up on his scooter through the night markets," Bunbury writes, "Nang and his pals are as recognizably part of the streetscape as the building itself." Those nighttime scooter shots are a reminder of, and quite likely a homage to, Tsai Ming-liang's classic 1992 Taiwanese coming-of-age film debut, Rebels of a Neon God starring his handsome future alter ego Lee Kahg-sheng.

The first half of the film features Nang, the dancing, and the scooter ride flirting with three pretty young girls on another scooter. But Nang's pals drift away, and his own ambition dissipates without a team, while the focus shifts to his father (Sithan Hout), who is the de facto leader of the White Building tenants who conducts discussions of what they are to do to counter a miserable offer of $1400 per square meter, which for those with small apartments won't provide them the money to move.

The discussions stagnate, while Nang's pop, who has diabetes, fails to deal in a timely fashion with another kind of rot, a big toe that has died and turned black. He rejects as a mere scam a doctor's suggestion that he must have the toe amputated by a surgeon friend with a clinic and goes on treating the gangrenous toe with folk remedies. The outcome is that the family winds up out in the country, but with the younger generation, first Nang's sister and then Nang, gradually back to Phnom Penh and the father having undergone the surgery that was threatened earlier.

But while these actions take place, more memorable are the visual elements that precede them, the pauses, the silences, the long shots of Piseth Cchun's handsome, changeable young Cambodian face, sometimes vibrant, sometimes childlike and vulnerable, sometimes sad. There is an arresting moment when Nang's father, all dressed up in a double-vested suit, stands quite still ringed with light, smack in the middle a White Building hallway, staring at the camera. Sometimes the light and the color in cinematographer Douglas Seok's filming of interiors in the building, with their tropical glow, make them deceptively spacious, open, inviting, peaceful. It all vanished in 2017 and I'm not sure exactly how all the scenes were filmed, perhaps several years before the film's release. Slow cinema takes time.

But this is a kind of slow cinema with vibrant youthful dance and street scenes. This is more like gradually-slowing-down cinema. It moves toward acceptance and peace and a sense of the inevitable, though Nang's mother (Ok Sokha) is always left protesting the changes that dissolve the family and erode security. Ludovic Béot of [url="https://www.lesinrocks.com/cinema/white-building-un-film-envoutant-sur-un-monde-qui-bascule-431200-20-12-2021/"]Les Inrockuptibles[/url] wrote "The strength of the film is to restore this soon-to-be-wiped-out building as an intimate but also universal experience, both a reminiscent image that haunts the memory of its author and a powerful metaphor for all the aesthetic and cultural dispossessions generated by today's neoliberal actors."

White Building has the sponsorship of Jia Zhangke - himself a longtime observer of impoverished youth swept away by the forces of ruthless urban development. In addition there was French participation in the production of this assured, handsome film. It's produced by Les Films Du Losange, which was originally started by Barbet Schroeder and Éric Rohmer. It entered French cinemas Dec. 22, 2021.

White Building/Bodeng sar , 90 mins., debuted as mentioned at Venice, showing at other international including London, Busan, Chicago, Hong Kong, Taipei and Singapore. It was Cambodia's 2022 best foreign Oscar entry.

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KAVICH NEANG

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