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Vann Nath, Chum Mey, Kim Houy, Prak Khan, Sours Thi ... see more see more... , Nhiem Ein , Khieu Poev Ches , Tcheam Seur , Nhieb Ho , Som Meth , Top Pheap , Peng Kry , Mak Thim , Ta Him , Yeay Cheu , Houy Him , Prakk Kahn

The brutality of Cambodia's Khmer Rouge regime is documented in Rithy Panh's documentary, S21: The Khmer Rouge Killing Machine. S21 was a notorious detention center, an abandoned suburban schoolhouse ... read more read more...used by the Angkor (the Communist Party organization) for the imprisonment and torture of thousands of innocent citizens. Prisoners were tortured until they confessed to false crimes, and were also ordered to incriminate others. Of the approximately 17,000 prisoners who were interred there, about seven survived. Panh interviews two of the survivors, Vann Nath and Chum Mey. While Mey can barely bring himself to speak of the horrors he endured, including the loss of his family, Nath agrees to return to the prison, which is now the Tuol Sleng S21 Genocide Museum, and discuss his ordeal. Panh also brings back several of the Khmer Rouge personnel, who committed atrocious acts on behalf of the regime, many while they were still teenagers. The guards and interrogators give a horrific tour, reenacting their treatment of the prisoners, and going through the regimes detailed records, including photographs, to refresh their memories of the horror they took part in. Panh allows Nath to confront them about their actions, but most of them claim that they themselves were also victims, indoctrinated in the regime's poisonous ideology, and too afraid for their own safety to show any compassion for their victims. Panh himself was imprisoned at a Khmer Rouge labor camp as a teenager, before escaping to Thailand in 1979. S21: The Khmer Rouge Killing Machine won the Prix François Chalais at the 2003 Cannes Film Festival, and was also selected for the 2003 New York Film Festival. ~ Josh Ralske, Rovi

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76% liked it

603 ratings


97% liked it

30 critics

Unrated, 1 hr. 41 min.

Directed by: Rithy Panh

Release Date: May 19, 2004

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DVD Release Date: May 24, 2005

Stats: 54 reviews


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Flixster Reviews (54)

  • August 17, 2009
    This is the first of 2 depressing documentaries I watched in a row.

    As horrendously sad as this historic incident that is the subject of this movie is, it is sad to say that I thought it wasn?t very exciting. That doesn?t mean to say that subject isn?t interesting, just that th... read moree movie gets a little ?repetitive?. It is a unique opportunity to rehash the absurd genocide that occurred. People who were part of the killing machine are confronted by people who were the victims. But are the punishers also victims? That?s one of the things this doc puts forth, and probably the most compelling thing, but watch people repeat their actions and show that they were pretty much brainwashed doesn?t make for exciting movie watching.

    Again, it is a brave accomplishment. It is a bold message about one of the worst things that can ever happen and did in modern times. I get it. And you can too by watching. The bad part is that it can be got even without really paying attention to the movie.
  • August 23, 2008
    Very haunting film about the murderous regime of the Khmer Rogue in Cambodia. Could have used a bit more cotxt and structure. I dont know a whole lot about the Khmer Rogue and its origins, but the film only spends about three minutes on that in the very beginning. Still, the i... read morenterviews with the victims of torture and the guards that did it to them is intense.

Critic Reviews

Chris Vognar
July 15, 2004
Chris Vognar, Dallas Morning News

A haunting look at the historical amnesia that envelops countries or regimes after officially sanctioned barbarism. Full Review

Desson Thomson
June 11, 2004
Desson Thomson, Washington Post

A modest but nonetheless devastating documentary. Full Review

Ann Hornaday
June 11, 2004
Ann Hornaday, Washington Post

Cinema at its most intellectually honest and morally necessary. Full Review

V.A. Musetto
June 5, 2004
V.A. Musetto, New York Post


Owen Gleiberman
May 20, 2004
Owen Gleiberman, Entertainment Weekly

At a moment when issues of torture loom so large in our world, S21 testifies to the chilling ease with which ordinary men can cross the line into homicidal sadism. Full Review

Jan Stuart
May 19, 2004
Jan Stuart, Newsday

Serves as a potent and necessary reminder of how easily war can defeat the humanity of the good and the well-intentioned. Full Review

J. Hoberman
May 18, 2004
J. Hoberman, Village Voice

Understated and unforgettable; in its modest way, this movie is as horrific an exposure to evil as Lanzmann's Shoah. Full Review

Derek Elley
May 4, 2004
Derek Elley, Variety

There's no shortage of existing docus on the subject, and Panh's doesn't bring either a fresh enough angle or enough new material to the table to justify its length. Full Review

Elvis Mitchell
February 2, 2004
Elvis Mitchell, New York Times

In this affecting and effective documentary, a placid artist returns to the place where he was tortured by the Khmer Rouge to confront the men who worked as guards. Full Review

Dennis Schwartz
September 12, 2005
Dennis Schwartz, Ozus' World Movie Reviews

Offers one of the most powerful and unforgettable looks at evil. Full Review

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