Directed by Davy Chou
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SACD Prize for Critics’ Week, 2016 Cannes Film Festival
Phnom Penh is transforming. As new skyscrapers cast an ever-expanding shadow over the city, a fresh generation of Cambodian filmmakers seeks to document this frenetic pace of change. Among them is Cambodian-French helmer Davy Chou, who co-produced DREAMLAND (LAAPFF, 2016), about the romantic travails of a luxury apartment realtor in Phnom Penh. The symbolic richness of this setting—with shimmering luxury condominiums looming over the impoverished denizens below—proved irresistible for Chou, who returns to this milieu for his narrative feature debut, DIAMOND ISLAND. But this time, Chou turns his attention squarely on the downtrodden day-laborers—the ones who actually build these glass towers.
DIAMOND ISLAND focuses on nineteen-year-old Bora (Sobon Nuon), who heads to the city and eventually settles into a job transporting metal scraps to luxury developments on the outskirts of Phnom Penh. In the evenings, he and a group of innocent young workers horse around, often at a nearby fairground, and flirt with young women. As Bora begins an innocent courtship of the fetching Aza (Madez Chhem), he stumbles upon his long-lost, older brother Solei (Cheanick Nov). Comparatively worldly and seemingly loaded, Solei introduces Bora to Phnom Penh’s surreal nightclubs. He comes of age in this whiplash world—laboring in a drab, dirty condo development by day and partying in clubs and amusement parks bathed in saturated neon by night.
While set against this backdrop of stark inequality, DIAMOND ISLAND is, at heart, a dreamy hang-out movie—it’s Hou Hsiao-Hsien’s GOODBYE SOUTH, GOODBYE but with innocent, likeable teens. And Chou, best known for his documentary valentine to classic Cambodian cinema, GOLDEN SLUMBERS (LAAPFF, 2012), forsakes plot momentum for moody lyricism. Awash in painterly pastels, the film’s striking palette is paired with exquisitely orchestrated passages, such as a beautiful long take of Bora, Solei, and friends riding through the streets and a courtship conveyed in quarter-split screens. DIAMOND ISLAND, which premiered at the Cannes Film Festival, Critics’ Week, gives us a tantalizing glimpse into the future of Cambodia—and of the new Cambodian cinema.
— Ryan Wu
Community Partner: Cambodia Town Film Festival
Davy Chou is a French-Cambodian filmmaker and producer, born in 1983, and based in Paris and Phnom Penh.
Producer: Charlotte Vincent
Director: Davy Chou
Writer: Davy Chou, In Collaboration With Claire Maugendre
Cinematographer: Thomas Favel
Sound: Vincent Villa
Music: Jérémie Arcache, Christophe Musset
Editor: Laurent Leveneur
Cast: Nuon Sobon, Nov Cheanick, Korn Mean, Nut Samnang, Meng Sophyna