FILM REVIEW: The Last Forest
Director: Hot Ravy
Cast: Flew Melody
Language: Cambodian, with English subtitles
Runtime: 10 minutes
A young man goes to the Prey Lang Forest but is met with hostility by the villagers nearby. One day, he enters the forest with the villagers who harvest resin from the trees, and vegetables. Someone tries to follow him…
Review by Nadia Alang
Did you know that Cambodia’s Prey Lang Forest is the largest forest in Indochina? Did you also know that it has been decreasing in size over the last decade and that up till today, it faces the threat of illegal logging activities?
If you didn’t, this short film will be an eye-opener for you. As part of a conservation project and a tribute to the country’s natural treasure, the film was shot against the gorgeous backdrop of the Prey Lang Forest. Conservation issues are usually done in a documentary style or has a tone that is more informative, but this film tones down these elements in a bid for an engaging narrative with immersive visuals.
Shots of the forest are taken at varying angles and, at one point, from a bird’s eye view that gives us an idea of how vast this forest it. These are cleverly incorporated within a quick-paced narrative about an outsider whose visit to the forest puts him in conflict with the villagers. In one of the most memorable scenes, we get to see the villagers’ dependency on the forest for sustenance and survival through an exhilarating high-speed chase scene.
The dramatic narrative does not take away the level of authenticity; glimpses of Cambodian culture are captured in the form of the villagers’ daily lives. The actors, especially the village elder, accompany the well-written dialogue with facial expressions that truly put across the sentiments that they share about the forest and the controversial issues that surround it. The sound design – a bird’s call, rustling leaves, trees being tapped for resin – and artistic direction effectively immerse viewers in the natural environment. In so doing, we get a sense of the beauty and vastness that is endangered by the illegal activities that take place in the forest.
As the story progresses, the gloomy tone that underscores the beginning is lifted and a lighthearted mood sets in with upbeat music and shots of happy children running around the fields. I was especially moved by this turning point as it matched the point where the villagers begin to accept the protagonist rather than ostracising him out of suspicion.
Without being overly moralistic, this short film brilliantly puts across an important message that can be interpreted from different perspectives. Whether or not the viewers are like the hostile villagers or an overeager outsider like the protagonist, the film teaches us that we all have a part to play in conservation efforts even if the situation seems beyond us. This message is moving and relevant today – “We can’t get back what we lost, at least we can protect what we have.”