Wrenching anime depicts little-told war story.
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A Lot or a Little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that Funan is an anime movie (in French, with English subtitles) about a family that suffers during the Cambodian Civil War of the 1970s. Although violent content isn't gory or bloody, it may have a real impact on young or sensitive viewers -- or anyone who's particularly disturbed by watching a family and young child in danger. A group of prisoners is forced across a river that contains land mines (viewers see an explosion in the water and hear people screaming and crying); some die. Prisoners are also accused of traitorous deeds; one is picked out at random, thrown to the ground, and shot as the camera focuses on another character's face. A young child is lost in a crowd; his parents grieve piteously for him. Soldiers smoke cigarettes in many scenes, and in one, a man is given a drink to "buck him up." Language includes infrequent use of words like "hell" and "bitch." Sexual content is almost nil, but one character is said to "sleep with" powerful men to get favors; she's called a "slut" by fellow prisoners and beaten. The movie's mood is downbeat, but it has strong themes of courage, compassion, and perseverance and illustrates an important era in Cambodian history. Mature teens and adults who appreciate challenging animated fare like Persepolis or Grave of the Fireflies may like this one, too.
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What's the Story?
Set during the Cambodian civil war of the 1970s, FUNAN zeroes in on one family that's forced from their home and into collective agriculture by the communist Khmer Rouge. On the march to the farming camp, Chou (voiced by Bérénice Bejo) and Khuon (Louis Garrel) lose track of their 3-year-old son in the crowds, and he's sent to a different camp. Can Chou and Khuon survive long enough to find him?
Is It Any Good?
Heart-wrenching yet absolutely beautiful, this anime film movingly illustrates a tumultuous period of Cambodian history that's relatively unknown to Western viewers. Funan isn't easy to watch: Viewers get just a couple of moments of peace in the movie's beginning, when Khuon zips through a lazy midday market on a scooter to get home to his wife and son, fresh from a wooden tub bath. As Khuon carefully removes his shoes before stepping over the threshold and gives his wife a tender hug, we can imagine their lives playing out in many such calm, easygoing afternoons. But the urgent announcements start just moments later, and things quickly go from bad to worse to unbearable for the family.
Chou and Khuon are designated as "new people": urban types to be reeducated by "old people" -- aka peasants who traditionally worked the land. It doesn't go well. Within a few years, Chou and Khuon's cheeks are hollow, and the sky seems always to be gray as they squat in the dirt, carefully dividing their rice rations between family members. The land around them is still beautiful: Visuals as stunning as an Impressionist painting show the green forest, landscape littered with palm trees, and purple sunsets over the rice paddies. But with their country occupied and their son somewhere else, all Chou and Khuon can see is their own misery. War is hell, but this sad, singular movie at least makes it lovely to look at.
Talk to Your Kids About ...
Families can talk about Funan's violence. Is it necessary to the story? Does it make more of an impact because of its relative infrequence? Why or why not? Do different types of violence affect kids differently?
Which scene did you find the most upsetting? Why?
How do the characters demonstrate courage, compassion, and perseverance? Why are those important character strengths?
Did you learn anything new about this historical period and how it affected those who lived through it? Had you heard of the Cambodian civil war before? Do you know more about it after watching Funan?
- In theaters: March 6, 2019
- On DVD or streaming: December 3, 2019
- Cast: Bérénice Bejo, Louis Garrel, Colette Kieffer
- Director: Denis Do
- Studio: GKIDS
- Genre: Drama
- Topics: History
- Character Strengths: Compassion, Courage, Perseverance
- Run time: 84 minutes
- MPAA rating: NR
- Last updated: February 22, 2023
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