The fascinating documentary “Enemies of the People” explores the under-told story of Cambodia’s Khmer Rouge and the mass genocide that occurred between 1975 and 1979 under notorious regime leader Pol Pot. This investigation grippingly unfolds through the eyes of Phnom Penh Post reporter Thet Sambath (who co-produced and co-directed with Rob Lemkin), whose mother, father and brother all perished during the communist dictator’s brutal reign.
Sambath arranges unprecedented interviews with several of the henchmen responsible for executing so many of their party’s so-called traitors or “enemies of the people” as well as countless innocent villagers. These haunted ex-assassins chillingly recount the details of their heinous acts, often speaking from the rural killing fields where the massacres took place.
But the centerpiece is Sambath’s series of visits with Nuon Chea, once Pol Pot’s second in command. Sambath keeps his own tragic family history a secret as he earns Chea’s trust — it took nearly 10 years — ultimately wresting the first confession from the octogenarian about his involvement in the “cleansing” that resulted in an estimated 1.7 million deaths. (Chea is awaiting trial for crimes against humanity and war crimes; the first verdict in these genocide-related hearings came down last week against former prison chief Kaing Guek Eav.)
How the genial Sambath remains so circumspect throughout his taut sessions with Chea is remarkable, as is so much of this must-see exposé.
“Enemies of the People.” MPAA rating: Unrated. Running time: 1 hour, 34 minutes. In English and Cambodian with English subtitles. At Laemmle’s Music Hall, Beverly Hills.