Norodom Sihanouk: Crepuscule (Twilight, Cambodia 1969) Review
I skipped the screening of King Norodom Sihanouk´s Twilight (1969) at the retropective during the Golden Reawakening at the Chinese House in Phnom Penh, as I have seen that film before. Actually, you can do that, too. The Cambodian King Father has an extensive website that he maintains from his home in Beijing, and it offers some of his works for streaming and downloading, including Twilight.
I downloaded all the clips and pieced them together with the help of a small freeware program called Super. The quality is quite poor, but it gives you an idea of what the films of His Majesty are like, plus it has English subtitles. Twilight is basically a melodrama, that was written and directed by the charismatic monarch, who also plays the main protagonist, as he does in most of his early films. The story is really just an excuse to introduce the audience to some of the beauties of Cambodia, especially of Angkor Wat, which back than seemed more like a deserted public park than the overcrowded tourist Mecca that it has become in the last ten years.
The fact that a ruling monarch has made movies keeps baffeling foreign audiences. In fact, King Sihanouk is one of the most prolific directors of Southeast Asia, and has shot over a dozen of feature films plus a much larger number of documentaries. A longer analysis of his films has to wait for the time being, so it needs to suffice here to say that his films were subject of some controversy when they were released. While much of the monarchist press praised them for obvious reasons, others were less enthralled. While some argue that these films were a way of reaching out to an audience that was often illiterate and knew little about the history of their own country, other see them as self-indulgent self-portraits of a tiny upper class that lived a live of luxury very detached from the realities of the average Cambodian. Other complain about their filmic short-comings, even though King Sihanouk was the only film maker in Cambodia at that time who had access to a 35-mm camera and other professional equipment.
Historian Milton Osborne has even argued that his filmic endeavors brought about his downfall in 1970, when Sihanouk – who had made himself head of state for lifetime in 1963 – was ousted by a coup, as many Cambodians had lost his confidence in a ruler who seemed to dedicate most of his time to film making rather than attending to the problems of the country.