Nov. 21 Director:
Ellen Kuras and Thavisouk PhrasavathCinematographer:
Ellen KurasStudio/Run Time:
Pandalino Films, 96 mins.
Ellen Kuras is probably best known as one of the strongest
cinematographers to come out of the '90s, due to her work on Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Summer of Sam and Personal Velocity. Her
directorial debut shares little in common with her most of her previous work, though,
either in content or form. The Betrayal is a not quite cinema-verite (featuring voice-overs and interviews) documentary that deals
with the United States’ extrication from Laos following the Vietnam War’s resolution
and its effects on Thavisouk Phrasavath and his family.
This family story is Betrayal’s
chief asset, a tale of courage and audacity that nevertheless leads to a
bittersweet reality when they reach America. But their story isn’t one about America’s betrayal; it’s a more typical tale of immigrant disappointment. Neither of the two stories really takes the forefront,
and many of the film’s later parts focus on Thavi’s father and the way his
family falls apart in the ghettoized Laotian region of New York. Once again, the tale is heartbreaking, but it’s
pretty far removed from the rest of what’s going on, especially since other
than Thavi’s shrill mother, the group isn’t really characterized.
The Betrayal is
difficult to watch not so much due to its content, but because the filmmakers’
good intentions come through so ineptly. Kuras and Thavi filmed the movie over the course of 23 years, including
some of the most intimate moments of his life. It’s edited together with random talking heads speaking of their plight,
which undercuts these poignant moments and beautifully filmed shots of New York
This collage style of documentary can work beautifully, but The Betrayal has no focus for it to
center around. While by the end of the
movie you’ve seen and heard about the most stunning moments of Thavi’s life, it’s
always from the outside. Thavi and his
family never become complex, the issues are never examined beyond the surface
and the film never finds full realization. It’s a pity, because somewhere within the
countless hours of footage shot for the project is a truly stunning movie that
sheds light on America’s imperialism. Sadly, it’s not there on the screen.
Watch the trailer for The Betrayal - Nerakhoon: