Les Artistes du théâtre brûlé

by Rithy Panh, Cambodia, 2005
Picture of

While much of Cambodia's cultural heritage was eradicated through the deaths of many artists during the Khmer Rouge era, the country's main theatrical structure, Preah Suramarit National Theatre remained standing throughout the Cambodian Civil War, even occasionally being used by the communist regime for official visits and propaganda pageants. Ironically, it was while the theatre was undergoing repairs in 1994 that it caught fire, was heavily damaged and has never been restored.

It is in this roofless performance hall that a Khmer classical dance troupe continues to practice daily, and a troupe of actors attempts to produce a Khmer-language adaptation of Cyrano de Bergerac on a stage overgrown with weeds. Around the theatre, Phnom Penh, the nation's capital and largest city, is being rebuilt and redeveloped. Next door, a casino and resort hotel is being built, the slamming sound of the pile drivers provides a counterpoint to the action in the theatre. Into the situation comes a journalist, Bopha Chheang, who interviews actor Than Nan Doeun, who portrays Cyrano. He and other actors reflect on the great productions of the past but lament the difficulties they are faced in a society that seems to have forgotten they exist. Some of the actors receive a small stipend, around $10 to $15 a month, from the government, and supplement their incomes by appearing in karaoke videos and performing at nightclubs. "Soon people won't know what theatre is," one actor says. "Everyone will be watching ghost films or singing the same lyrics like parrots."

Also interviewed is actress Peng Phan (she appeared in Rithy Panh's One Evening After the War and Rice People), who is wracked with Survivor guilt and is overcome by psychosomatic illness. The reporter's questioning and the activities of the performers are intercut with scenes of men and women sifting through refuse at a garbage dump. At another point, the members of the theatre troupe forage for food in the theatre itself, harvesting bats from the ceiling of the theatre halls and frying the winged mammals in a wok.



Original Title
Les Artistes du théâtre brûlé
Les Artistes du théâtre brûlé
Directed by
Rithy Panh
Agnès Sénémaud, Rithy Panh
Film Editing
Marie-Christine Rougerie
Marc Marder
Prum Mesa
Catherine Dussart Productions (CDP), arte France Cinéma
35mm, DVD
87 min.
Dokumentarfilm - documentaire

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Press voices

"une oeuvre forte et pathétique, tournée dans des conditions précaires. Pas précisément le genre de film pour s'éclater un samedi soir, mais un bon moyen de mesurer l'absurdité des idéologies." Ciné-Feuilles

"C'est celle du théâtre Preah Suramarith, inauguré en 1966 seulement, paradoxalement épargné par les Khmers rouges, mais qui brûla en 1994 en pleins travaux de restauration. Orphelins de leur instrument de travail, une poignée de comédiens y survivent tant bien que mal, tandis qu'autour d'eux s'érigent centres commerciaux, casinos et bars à karaoké. C'est ici que Rithy Panh a planté ses caméras pour réaliser Les Artistes du théâtre brûlé, passionnant film à mi-chemin entre documentaire et fiction." Le Temps

"Dans ce film, Rithy Panh rélève avec une émotion brute et à la fois ciselée la force de résilence en action dans chaque tentative d'oeuvre d'art. Loin des théories psychanalytiques, mais ancré dans le réel de l'existence." 24 Heures