Wellington Daily News - Wellington, KS
by Garon Cockrell
Duch, Master Of The Forges Of Hell DVD Review
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Aug. 15, 2013 12:01 a.m.

Duch, Master Of The Forges Of Hell is an intriguing documentary

about Kaing Guek Eav, known as Duch, who became the head of the S21 prison in

Phnom Penh, where more than twelve thousand people died.

Title cards at the

beginning set up the backdrop for us: “In

Cambodia, between 1975 and 1979, the Khmer Rouge regime caused the death of

approximately 1.8 million people, representing a quarter of the population of

.” Those numbers are staggering. I didn’t have a lot of prior

knowledge about these events, and I could have used a bit more information at

the beginning of this documentary to ground me. But even without that, I was

very quickly sucked into this film.

The documentary focuses

on interviews with Duch. He is confronted with documents and photographs during

the interview, and comments quite candidly about them, and about his

involvement. He also identifies interrogation officers in the old photographs,

and many of them look incredibly young. Mixed in is quite a bit of black and

white footage. It’s provocative and helps to set the tone, but none of the

footage is ever precisely identified. It helps with atmosphere, but not so much

with information.

Early on Duch says, “I joined the revolution to serve my country

and my people. I owed it to my parents
.” He talks about using children – “middle-class peasants or poor peasants

–at S21. “I’d make them watch and

interrogate people. The youngest took care of the rabbits
.” Even this is

spoken so candidly, and so casually. The children were not educated, but were

loyal to him. He certainly had no soft spot for the young, as he says later, “The enemy’s children had to be destroyed.”

Duch was in charge of

training at the prison. He trained the others on how to interrogate prisoners.

He told them not to think of the captives as human beings. Whoever was arrested

by the Party must be considered an enemy. Interestingly, he found the

illiterate ones perfectly willing to kill. The educated ones were less willing.

In one of the film’s many

completely engrossing and horrifying moments, he reads from a report on an

interrogation from 1977: “I decided to

torture the suspect
.” He reads the description, which includes electrocution,

and this: “We made him swallow three or

four spoonfuls of shit

He says he never conducted interrogations himself, not

due to any moral high ground, but seemingly out of a fear of not being able to

get results. But then a man who was a guard at the prison who is also

interviewed for the film says he saw Duch interrogate a prisoner. And Duch is

confronted with the footage of that interview. Duch then says he interrogated

only one person, and he describes that interrogation.

We never see or hear

those conducting the interviews, only Duch himself, and this has a somewhat

eerie effect, as it really makes it his film, like he’s in control of his

story. We’re never able to get too far away from him (though of course we’d

like to). Plus, he says things like, “I’d

like to speak of my school teacher
,” which seems to indicate he has the

power to change subjects, as if this were his film. It’s a very interesting

approach. (Regarding his school teacher, he learned she was at S21, but he was

afraid to go see her.)

At one point Duch says he

has tended to think of himself as innocent. Because he was part of the police,

he believes the crimes belong to the government (a government which he notes

was recognized by the UN, and had a seat at the UN until 1990). But he thinks

differently today. Toward the end he says, “What

I did is criminal, but I was serving an ideology. I was ordered to commit these

.” This is an interesting point, and it’s this type of thought that

allows all sorts of atrocities to happen. It is what allows a soldier to feel

okay about killing, when of course in reality it is still murder.

A title card at the end

tells us, “In 2009, Kaing Guek Eav, aka Dutch, was the first Khmer Rouge leader

presented before the Extroardinary Chambers with Courts Of Cambodia.” (Yes, the

title card has spelling mistakes – “Extroardinary” and “realease” – which is a

shame, because it leaves you with the impression that the film is a bit

sloppy.) Duch was sentenced to life imprisonment.

The DVD contains no

special features.

Duch, Master Of The Forges Of Hell was directed by Rithy Pahn. It was

released on DVD on August 6, 2013 through First Run Features.

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