Far East Film Festival 2015. Review of “The Last Reel” by Sotho Kulikar

Cambodian director Sotho Kulikar’s debut film, The Last Reel, screened at the Tokyo International Film Festival and the Far East Film Festival where it won the Spirit of Asia and the Black Dragon Award respectively. The Last Reel uses the history of the country’s filmmaking past to comment on both the Khmer Rouge’s decimation and the therapeutic power of storytelling.

A married, ailing former film star, her tyrannical husband and the owner of a rundown cinema who longs for her become entangled in a young girl’s wish to reshoot an ending to an unfinished film and very soon, all the secrets they all hide come to light. The Last Reel tells an intimate, cross-generational story of love, hate and the loss of cultural heritage and identity with the Khmer Rouge outlawing filmmaking and destroying a thriving national industry.

Despite being deeply autobiographical, The Last Reel is not a documentary and the evidently personal nature of its story allows it to become a passionate appeal as well as wail for a period of barbarity and degenerate ideology that damaged the collective Cambodian memory. The film has a shaky start but, adds subtlety as it progresses, becoming highly poignant and absorbing towards the end. In that sense, the film takes a while to find its direction and purpose; indeed, certain early themes like for instance the gender issue are raised but fully explored much later in the film. As fiction, The Last Reel fumbles at times, particularly at the beginning when we are expected to root for the somewhat thoughtless ill-starred romance between a young Cambodian girl and her vagrant boyfriend. It provides us a fascinating look at current Cambodian attitudes to gender relations and familial duty although the story is an all too familiar one. So, nothing gives us much reason to assume that Kulikar has an astonishing tale up her sleeve. Indeed, the story that ultimately surfaces makes for a very moving film indeed.

The film’s juice comes with its focus on a specific part of the tragedy wrought by the Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia. As a matter of fact, the years leading to the bloody revolution are known as the “Golden Age of Cambodian Cinema”, when around three hundred feature films were made. During the revolution, those who made them or were involved in their creative process were deemed opponents of the regime and therefore executed while their work was destroyed. This resulted in the eradication of a significant part of the country’s history. What The Last Reel does is use the film-within-a-film in order to recreate a lost film, something that Kulikar crafts with attention, dedication and, more importantly, respect. In an additional layer of metatextuality, Dy Saveth was an actress at the time of the revolution. She escaped its horrors by being abroad at that time. The film comes without a doubt from the collective need to bring Cambodia and its cultural legacy alive not only for those who reminisce about the olden days but also for a new generation born after the reign of terror of the Khmer Rouge that needs to learn about that part of its country’s history.

The Last Reel is most certainly both ambitious and stylish. Kulikar succeeds in conjuring good performances from her leading ladies in an attempt to mirror historical divisions through the metaphor of a mother-daughter drama. In that regard, Ma Rynet is very good; she does not merely represent today’s Cambodian female youth but is evidently also a stand-in for the director – as even now a woman in a powerful position in Cambodia is a rare occurrence. Moreover, the film is visually excellent, courtesy of cinematographer Bonnie Elliott whose camerawork deftly eases the film’s progressive migration from the neon-lit urban nightlife of the beginning to the more pastoral settings toward the end, resulting in a homage to the traditional aesthetics of classical Cambodian cinema and culture.

In spite of its occasional clumsiness, The Last Reel pays an effective and affecting tribute to the lost Golden Age of Cambodian cinema while examining the power of collective memory, history and its lessons through a family drama about a young woman’s rite of passage through filmmaking. The Last Reel is one more step toward the consolidation of a national cinema in Cambodia but also a true cinematic treasure.



Production: Hanuman Films (Cambodia 2014). Executive producers: Lloyd Levin, Nick Ray, Tan Sotho and Chris Wheeldon. Producers: Ian Masters, Murray Pope and Sotho Kulikar . Director:Kulikar Sotho. Associate producer: Christopher Zaryc. Line producer: Mary Hare. Screenplay: Ian Masters. Photography: Bonnie Elliott. Music: Christopher Elves. Production Design: Ian Bailie. Editing: Katie Flaxman.

Cast: Rous Mony (Veasna), Ma Rynet (Sophoun), Dy Saveth (Srey Mom), Hun Sophy (Colonel Bora), Sok Sothun (Vichea)

Color – 106 min. Premiere: 26-X-2014 (Tokyo International Film Festival)


This film was reviewed at the 2015 Far East Film Festival. 

Tara Karajica

Tara Karajica is a Belgrade-based film critic and journalist. Her writings have appeared in "Indiewire," "Screen International," "Variety," "Little White Lies" and "Film New Europe," among many other media outlets, including the European Film Academy’s online magazine, "Close-up" and Eurimages. She is a member of the European Film Academy, the Online Film Critics Society and the Alliance of Women Film Journalists as well as the recipient of the 2014 Best Critic Award at the Altcine Action! Film Festival. In September 2016, she founded "Yellow Bread," a magazine dedicated entirely to short films, ranked among the 25 Top Short Film Blogs and Websites on the Planet in 2017. In February 2018, she launched "Fade to Her," a magazine about successful women working in Film and TV and in 2019, she was a member of the Jury of the European Shooting Stars (European Film Promotion). She is currently a programmer for live action shorts at PÖFF Shorts, Head of the Short Film Program and Live Action Shorts programmer at SEEFest and Narrative Features Programmer at the Durban International Film Festival. Tara is a regular at film festivals as a film critic, moderator and/or jury member.

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