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Staff Pick: Swetha Regunathan

Swetha_Regunathan-small.jpg When a cinematographer makes a film, she uses the camera as though it were merely an appendage to her body, so reflexively does it make out the lights and darks of existence. “The Betrayal”:, or Nerakhoon in Laotian (DVD out September 1), was filmed over a span of twenty-three years by noted cinematographer Ellen Kuras, as it follows one Lao family through war, evacuation, and a cycle of violence. We experience this family’s history through the eyes of Thavisouk Phrasavat, co-director of the film. Our starting point is the war in Vietnam, at the peak of America’s heavy bombing campaign against the northern Vietnamese. By 1973, almost three million tons of bombs were dropped on Laos in the fight to overcome the North Vietnamese, more than were used during WWI and WWII combined. Thavisouk’s father, a CIA recruit, is later branded an enemy of the state by the conquering communist Lao party and sent to a labor camp. Meanwhile, Thavisouk, his mother, and his siblings emigrate to New York, where new challenges await them. “We thought we’d arrived in Africa, ” Thavi narrates, as the family first arrives in Brooklyn. A wrenching reunion with their father and tragedy follow in this fascinating documentary. Time seems as warbled as a Lao river, life in America as revelatory as a Lao prophesy. Nerakhoon’s personal confessions, montage sequences, archival footage, and lush landscapes tell a larger story than that of the refugee overcoming his war-torn past—they create a lyric of loneliness, displacement, and dashed hopes.

Bio: Swetha Regunathan is assistant editor of Guernica. Her last article, “Who’ll Stop the Rain”: appeared in Guernica’s March 2009 issue. Read her last recommendation “here”:

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