French, Thai, Khmer
Cambodia 1981. After the fall of the Khmer Rouge regime, a woman flees a country in fire and blood. She holds a baby in her arms. Forty years later, confronted with her mother’s silence forged by trauma and time, the director decides to embark on a long journey. From the Cambodian jungle, through the former refugee camps of Thailand and Indonesia, to centres for asylum-seekers in France, she tries to reconstruct the story of their survival and to open up the paths of memory and transmission.
A word from Tënk
Eskape can be summarized in these two lines: “Memory cannot be transmitted,” spoken by its main subject, the filmmaker’s mother, in its opening scene; and the filmmaker herself, later, saying, “And yet yes I did live through this, with you.”
A mother’s escape becomes a daughter’s quest, her steps retraced against the powerful force of forgetting, forty years later. A silence broken consciously, with great sensitivity and plenty of love, the filmmaker takes off in search of the enormity of her own personal story, compelled by a need to understand not only how she arrived from Cambodia to France, but into this world at all. “Don’t seek understanding,” her mother insists, focused on survival; but the daughter understands well—in looking at her own young daughter—that survival includes not only a bodily aspect but also the layers of mind and spirit, as well. Where resourcefulness and luck meet is where the mother finds her narrative; the daughter, with her film, follows the traces of the traceless, the hundreds of thousands of lives lost along the escape path out of the bowels of hell that was the Pol Pot regime in the 1970s and 80s, in order to find her own.
Rooted in catharsis as impulse, she invites her mother—a more cinematic character than you could invent in a fiction, with an easeful wisdom and an expansive sense of humour—to join her on the journey there where she wants to (in the south, by the sea, where they first found themselves in France), and not there where she does not want to go (to Cambodia, to Thailand). If the viewer wonders, in watching, how is it that humans can help anything grow in a time of so much death and destruction, it is a true sense of hope that is born in witnessing. The filmmaker herself would not be alive were it not for Pol Pot forcing her parents’ marriage, as she tells us in the interview included here below. The intergenerational element is braided into the story and images of the film like the long hair of the filmmaker whom we see almost always from the back throughout her film, as she searches for her past. And yet, the story finds its end and conclusion with a third generation, her young daughter Romy, facing the camera fully, firmly rooted in the present, this past clearly in her bones, staring straight into the future.
Writer, translator, cinephile
In accompaniment, Tënk invites you to view a dialogue with the filmmaker Neary Adeline Hay facilitated by Aurora Prelević, held on the occasion of a recent screening of the film at Cinéma Public.