There will be a strong sense of deja vu for those discovering Rithy Panh’s 1994 feature “Rice People” – if you’ve seen one movie about poor but loving rural families struggling against mighty odds to save their farm, you’ve seen them all. And this one is too much like the others of its genre.
Set in Cambodia’s rice paddies, the film focuses on Poeuv and Om, a poor farming couple trying to harvest a successful rice yield while raising seven daughters. Needless to say, everything that could go wrong goes wrongs: there’s a cobra, a flood, a death, a lot of financial misery and more angst than rice. If anything, this is not a promotional film for the joys of a career in Cambodian agriculture.
To its credit, “Rice People” is a good looking film (kudos to Jacques Bouquin’s cinematography) and it is certainly a sincere endeavor in its attempt to show how rural villagers struggle to stay alive. But Panh’s excruciatingly laborious pacing and the dull performances by his non-professional cast make this film as much fun as a walk through a muddy rice paddy. Plus, one can’t help but compare it to any number of rural hard-luck dramas where farmers are at odds with nature, bad karma and/or nasty people trying to create problems. Outside of the Cambodian setting, “Rice People” is strictly a been there/done that offering.