The Touching Strength of A Mother’s Love Takes Centre Stage In THE SCAVENGER4 min readReading Time: 3 minutes
In the dump site of Phnom Penh, a desperately poor mother lies to her son that his father would soon return with a bicycle, in hopes of keeping his dreams alive.
Director: Sothea Chhin
Cast: Su Sovan Vaddana, Dy Sonita
Runtime: 7 mins
If you’ve ever seen Bicycle Thieves by Vittorio De Sica, either because of film class (that’s me, but no regrets, I loved it!) or on your own time, The Scavenger has certain elements that are strikingly reminiscent of the 1948 classic — though put in a different context and seen through different lenses.
The main character (Dy Sonita), simply titled ‘Mother’ in the end credits, works as a scavenger in the massive Phnom Penh dump site. She works alone to raise her child, Chai (Su Sovan Vaddana), and in a well-intentioned attempt to keep him happy, lies that his father will soon return with a bicycle. However, when Chai finds the discarded pieces of bicycle that his mother has collected, he finds out the truth and runs away.
The premise of The Scavenger is simple. In fact, honestly? That’s the whole plot of the film right there. Basic as it is, however, Sothea Chhin makes absolute full use of the film’s 7-minute runtime, and what remains is a commendable effort at capturing the love and effort that a mother has in her desire to provide the best for her son despite her own impoverished circumstances. It’s a love that is not specific to her, but to all mothers on earth — which references the generically-named role of ‘Mother’ in the credits.
The film is visually desaturated, yellow, and gloomy, and looks almost like an apocalyptic wasteland (though, well, it is a literal land full of waste). In fact, if not for the bright orange of the scavengers’ gloves and bags, it might be easy to mistake them as part of the desolate landscape. However, just as how the light of the orange is stark against their grim surroundings, Mother is not at all beaten down by her circumstances. She, like all of us, has desires and dreams, if not for herself then for her family — and she’s determined to keep that spark of hope burning.
In Bicycle Thieves, the bicycle is seen as a tool for change, a beacon of a better future for the people who reside in post-war Italy; in The Scavenger, the mother’s hopes for Chai’s better future away from the landfill are placed within the pieces of the non-existent bicycle. Her lonely desperation and struggles, portrayed with the utmost sincerity and charm by Dy Sonita, bleeds through the shots of her orange-gloved hands digging through dirt, hoping to find something salvageable to wrangle into a working bicycle.
Her one-minded pursuit of a bicycle that would bring Chai to school and towards a better life is only undermined by Chai himself, who is fixated on her promise of his father’s return. Relatably, like most kids his age, Chao doesn’t particularly understand the pain or sacrifices that his mother makes for him, and his eventual outburst, which is a culmination of hurt feelings and dashed expectations from her betrayal, is played wonderfully by child actor Su Sovan Vaddana.
Even though The Scavenger is set in a landfill, which is a circumstance that many might not be able to resonate with, this film is ultimately about family and kinship. All parents want the best for their children, not just the singular mother depicted in the film.
A touching tale of family, love, and sacrifice, The Scavenger is a film that would resonate with parents from across the world.
The Scavenger is available to watch here.