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With: Thavisouk Phrasavath
Written by: Thavisouk Phrasavath, Ellen Kuras
Directed by: Thavisouk Phrasavath, Ellen Kuras
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Language: English, Lao, with English subtitles
Running Time: 96
Date: 03/19/2013
IMDB

The Betrayal (Nerakhoon) (2008)

2 Stars (out of 4)

Laos-ing Up

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Ellen Kuras is one of the leading cinematographers (Bamboozled, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) right now, having quickly adopted, pioneered and perfected digital filmmaking. But her directorial debut is something less impressive. Within ten minutes of The Betrayal (Nerakhoon), my eyes started to glaze over and my mind began to wander. Yes, here's yet another film telling me about the horrors of war, this time to the sound of a droning narrator and weeping violins. It tells the story of a soldier in Laos who aligns himself with the Americans during the Vietnam War (even though Laos was supposed to be neutral territory). Afterwards, the man's family, and mainly his oldest son Thavisouk Phrasavath, becomes outcast and is forced to move to the U.S., where they find life in Brooklyn equally tough. If I were sitting in a bar listening to Phrasavath tell his tale, I would have been riveted, but I can't say the same for this meandering film. I'm guessing Phrasavath -- or someone near him -- shot large chunks of the older footage, though there are never any dates or concrete information as to when or where any of the footage takes place; sometimes we see some bad 1980s fashions, and Phrasavath's hair switches back and forth from long locks to short-cropped. Other times, we listen to Phrasavath or his mother narrating their stories over seemingly random footage, and the stories tend to drag on -- and repeat themselves -- for long minutes. I would guess that if Phrasavath and co-director Ellen Kuras had edited the film as rigorously as a piece of journalism, it would run about 20 minutes. On top of that, the film is baldly manipulative, with the shots lingering whenever anyone cries (one of my biggest documentary pet peeves). And that violin score weeps on all the way to the end. And yes, you'd better believe it: the film was nominated for an Oscar for Best Documentary Feature.

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