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Movies  |  Reviews

The Betrayal - Nerakhoon

December 2, 2008  |  2:00pm
The Betrayal - Nerakhoon
Release Date: Nov. 21
Director: Ellen Kuras
Co-Director: Thavisouk Phrasavath
Writers: Ellen Kuras and Thavisouk Phrasavath
Cinematographer: Ellen Kuras
Studio/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 and Laos.

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:

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