Cambodia Movie Reviews: Dogora

Posted on by Dave Finch
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Dogora is being shown at Meta House in Phnom Penh at 8pm on Tuesday 6th November.

Sometimes living and working here in Cambodia with the daily stresses, struggles and inconveniences that are part of our everyday lives, we are in danger of forgetting just how magical and special our chosen home really is.

We take the beauty for granted and perhaps that’s just an inevitable result of living here. Sometimes however, it’s worth taking a step back, taking a fresh look around us and reminding ourselves why we love this poor little country so much.

Watching Patrice Leconte’s Dogora, is like a refreshment treatment for jaded eyes, a visual and musical love letter to this land, its people and their day to day lives. Set to a musical score by Étienne Perruchon, Dogora takes us on a visual and musical celebration of the Khmer people and country.

A series of ordinary – extraordinary montages of everyday people doing everyday things.

Last night the K440 editor asked me which adjectives I would use to describe this movie and, after thinking long and hard, beautiful, simply beautiful is the only word that comes to mind again and again.

This movie is beautiful, simply beautiful. People who have seen non narrative movies such as Baraka or Powerquatsi will be familiar with Dogora’s style in which images are paced with a musical score, the intention being to deliver an emotional and sensual experience.

Interpretation of those images is left with the viewer. Dogora offers a much more intimate, human movie than others of this genre however, the focus being on ordinary Khmers doing ordinary things: scenes of motos carrying people and things , children in school, workers washing cars in the city , farmers in a field, dancers hands etc.

Dogora’s images and scenes played in my mind long after I’d watched the movie. To to anyone living here they are familiar but Leconte”s extraordinary talent for bringing the beauty out of each scene cast them in a light that had me looking afresh at things I had long taken for granted.

I loved every scene in this movie. It helped me to remember why I have made it my home. That said however, this is not a perfect movie and, though I am loath to criticise a film that has affected me so much there are some aspects that were disquieting, and, for me, unneccessarily spoilt the overall experience.

According to Leconte, The word Dogora is fictional as are the lyrics in the music. Why? Why use a made up non-existant language? Why not use Khmer? The lack of Khmer left a feeling of artificiality sadly out of synch with the gorgeous imagery and seemed shallow and foreign. The musical score too, performed by the Bulgarian Sophia symphany orchestra, with a 500 piece Slavic choir sounded Russian.

To me this clashed badly with the imagery and pointlessly spoilt the overall composition. Why not use Khmer music or at least compose something that sounded, well, a little more Cambodian instead of this bizarre slavic orchestral sympathy – these criticisms are not minor and, indeed do serious damage to an otherwise superb movie. That said however, it is the beauty of the imagery that carries this movie and for imagery alone Dogora is well worth watching.

Dave Finch

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