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TIFF 2014 Review: The Gate

The Gate, directed by Régis Wargnier, feels almost like the cinematic blending of Claire Denis’ White Material and Jonathan Teplitzky’s The Railway Man.

Filmed on location in Cambodia, The Gate is based on the memoirs of French restorer of sacred Buddhist texts, François Bizot, who is unfairly held captive, and said to be a spy. The first hour of the movie feels like almost living in the breakaway country trying to move away from its French control. The film looks hot, sticky, muggy and audience members can almost feel the flies buzzing around them. The camerawork is first-rate, the acting is standout, (especially Phoeung Kompheak as the Duch), and the story is told in a relatively straightforward manner, with a flash-forward at the beginning explaining that Bizot (Raphaël Personnaz) owed his life to Duch, a feared commander of the Khmer Rouge.

With these elements working in concert, and strong direction from veteran Wargnier, The Gate is frustrating. While striving for authenticity, the film struggles to offer any answers, and certainly no note of redemption, as to why the crimes of the Khmer Rouge were ignored and unpunished, other than perhaps the difficulty of nationhood, and looks to France’s difficult record of international diplomacy.

The Gate propagates the idea that one generation of suffering influences the next. Had there been something in the film to break the cycle of hopelessness and begin anew, The Gate may have swung open, instead of slamming shut.

[star v=25]