Part of a two-part feature on coming-of-age short films from Cambodia and Thailand.
Our dreams are possibly the grandest – and most deceivingly achievable – when we are youths, hopeful and sanguine. Yet as we gain greater worldly wisdom, our dreams incongruously grow elusive. While That Day of The Month conveys the fragility of youth, Cambodia 2099 (Davy Chou) offers a subtle reminder to retain that faith for the future, even as we come of age. Or perhaps, it is precisely because of the weariness that comes with age, that we must urgently cling on to our dreams.
Cambodia 2099 shares the hopes harboured by a group of friends, with Diamond Island as the perfect backdrop. It is after all the capstone of modernity for Cambodia, and Chou’s first inspiration for the film: “It’s a place that keeps on fascinating me since I first went there, in 2009. It is for me the best symbol of transformation that Cambodia is passing through”. Accumulating all the energies from the youth who ride there daily, it has become a venue where young people go to aspire; the vast space offering them freedom to project themselves, its openness providing them a vision of contemporary Cambodia.
As if Diamond Island does not sound enchanting enough, the film takes on a dreamy ambience in a multitude of layers; as Vanary’s immersion into a flawless world, as a naïve reverie when Sotha narrates his time travel fantasy, and as fear manifested in a nightmare when Kavich shares of the 1997 clashes. The film extricates a parallel between three largely different characters, in that they all possess a longing to escape, from their reality or time or country.
But while the film ponders about the future, it nonetheless reveals the Cambodia today. It is a paradox that Chou artfully conveys: an expectation for, yet trepidation of, the future. The constant juxtaposition between dreams and life in Cambodia expresses the struggle to be connected to the present; in the ethereal soundtrack hijacked by a harsh broadcast of the 2013 elections, while the narration of Kavich’s hopes for the United States weaves through the quintessential streets of bustling Cambodia.
With coming of age also dawns the awakening of socio political issues, though quietly tackled in this film. True to verisimilitude, the film was shot a couple of days before the 2013 elections, and Chou recounts the subtle mood: “There was strangely a pretty relaxed atmosphere […] but still we could feel something, like a feeling of unexpected anxiety”. It is as if an indelible shadow from the unfortunate events Cambodia had been through still lurks in the present.
Cambodia 2099 seamlessly – though not always coherently — threads together a generation’s desire to be part of the global world, their yearning for an imagined future, and their elopement from reality, all within the confines of Diamond Island (and 21 minutes). It culminates in some fulfillment of conscious aspirations, and possibly unconscious ones.
But while this short comes to a close, Chou will be dedicating more of his talent to an upcoming feature film, entitled (guess what) Diamond Island. The story will be entirely different with younger characters, but what we can expect – that he reveals – is at least a classic youth film in a specific modern Cambodian era, “once again dealing with dreams, expectations and desires!”