Dennis Do

161: Funan Review

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Warning/Parental Heads up!: This film is absolutely not aimed at a children’s audience. This is an extremely adult film that focuses on a true historical genocide that happened in Cambodia. Younger viewers should avoid this flick, and go see The Angry Birds Movie 2. Viewer’s discretion is advised.

Animation unfortunately gets pigeonholed into being aimed at a children and family audience. Now, that doesn’t mean it’s a bad thing, because sometimes, a film or show aimed at a family audience, given the right writers and the right execution, can tackle tough subject matter.  Sadly, something that the entertainment industry sadly seems to limit is animation for more teen and older adult audiences. Just because it’s animated, it doesn’t mean you can’t tackle something aimed at an older audience. We get plenty of adult animated shows like Bojack Horseman and Big Mouth, but feature films are, for some reason, kept off the production line. Yeah, we got 2016’s Sausage Party, but that film’s controversy of how the animators were treated unfortunately killed the theatrical chance of seeing more on the big screen. This is why the foreign animation scene is so incredible, because it knows that you can tackle different genres, themes, and have all kinds of audiences. Plus, when will the live-action Hollywood scene tackle something like Dennis Do’s Funan? Directed by, well, Dennis Do, and distributed in the states by GKIDS, this French-animated feature ruled the film festival scene in 2018 by taking home major accolades from Annecy, second place-Jury Prize from the 20th Bucheon International Animation Festival, and the Grand Jury Prize and Audience Award at the 2nd Animation is Film Festival. As far as I can tell, this is 2019’s best animated feature. Why? Well, let’s dive in, shall we?

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The story follows a Cambodian woman named Chou, her husband Khuon, Sovanh, their son, Khuon’s brother Meng, Chou’s mother, grandmother, and their other children Hout, Tuch, and Lili. They are living peacefully in Cambodia, but are unfortunately caught up in the notoriously destructive Khmer Rouge, as they are separated from each other and try to survive and reunite. Can they try to avoid being killed, and become stronger by making it through this violent time?

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So, you think with this film being animated and such, they would pull back on the punches and darkness of the events shown. I mean, that’s what Sgt. Stubby did. Well, Dennis Do did not pull back on any punches. The film is unapologetic about showing the darker moments of this incident, and that includes scenes of murder, innocents stepping on hidden landmines, suicide, and so on. It’s definitely a film that is, to no surprise, aimed at a much older audience. However, it’s not really all about the terror of this incident. It really does focus on the family, and how they try to make sense out of what is going on, as they try to survive and not end up in front of an extremist’s rifle. You get the closeness of the family as they attempt to play along until they are able to reconnect or find a way to escape the hell in which they are put. You get a sense of everyone in the family, although the real main characters are the father, mother, and son. It’s a fairly quiet film as the emotions are told through the visuals. You feel for the family, and you want them to survive. Dennis Do knew how to balance it all out as every intense moment constantly hits hard. It’s a powerful emotional experience.

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The animation is incredible. It has a beautiful lush watercolor art direction that has smooth animation and great character designs. You can feel the emotion coming off of the characters’ faces. Gorgeous backgrounds and scenery is found among the regime-riddled camps that the film is usually set in for a chunk of the story. What also helps bring the emotions to a perfect level is the music by composer Thibault Kientz Agyenman. A lot of the soundtrack is full of tunes that set a somber, but optimistic tone that really envelopes you into the situation. This also includes powerful performances from Berenice Nejo and Louis Garrel.

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I knew I was in for something special when I saw the trailer, the news that it was doing well on the festival circuit, and how it was one of the first films selected for the Animation is Film Festival, and I was happy to be one of the first US film fans to see this breathtaking experience. Sure, some critics, for one reason or another, think it should have been about the genocide, but that wasn’t the point of the film. Just because it’s set during an intense period of time, doesn’t mean that has to be the entire focus. The entire film was inspired by the stories that Do would ask his mother about that time period, and it was crafted into this beautiful story. To me, that comment comes off like they wanted the film to be something different than what they got. Funan is a powerful film, and when it comes out on Blu-ray, or if you are lucky to find a theater playing it, buy the Blu-ray or see the film! Seriously, if you want more original films that help animation’s image in the US, please see this film. Unfortunately, since these types of films don’t get much screentime, how about we move on to a delightful surprise with The Angry Birds Movie 2? I think that would be pretty nice! Thanks for reading! I hope you all enjoyed the review, and I will see you all next time!

Rating: Criterion/Essentials