‘White Building’ Review: Coming of Age in Cambodia
Kabitch Nairn’s abundantly observed feature title, The White Building, is first of all an exaggeration. The ruined apartment complex depicted in this work is badly chipped, blackened with soot, and barely white. In fact, it has collapsed so much that there are hardly any buildings.
However, for Samnang (Piset Chun), the young protagonist of this delicate and autobiographical depiction of youth, it is his home, just as the real-life White Building, which is the model for this work, was his home. That’s it.
Located in the heart of Phnom Penh, the building symbolizes the often excruciating changes Cambodia has endured over the past 60 years. It was built in the 1960s as a residence for civil servants, but became a vacant lot during the forced exodus of the Khmer Rouge in the 1970s. In the 80s, it became home to working-class people like Nairn and Samnan’s diabetic father (Seesan Hout), who is also a sculptor. Now its inhabitants are forced into a terrible deal to demolish for new development in a city they can no longer afford.
Unlike her parents, Samnang has no memory of the Khmer Rouge. He and his friends grew up with mobile phones and hip-hop, dreaming of becoming a famous dance troupe. They want what boys of their generation want: girlfriends, Nikes, a chance to prove themselves.
Nairn excels at Tarkovsky’s method of rendering the details of the collapse, such as the cracked tiles and the leaky ceiling, with such vivid precision that they seem somehow concrete and surreal at the same time. It feels like Like the title, the image strains its own semantic boundaries. The film’s loose plot and secondary character development may be too threadbare, but the sense of the place is very palpable, the smell of smoky city markets, sweat and hormones. seems to be able to smell
Unrated. Khmer, with subtitles. Running time: 1 hour 30 minutes. at the theater.