Review: Ruin

Three years after claiming a prize at the Venice Film Festival, this visual and aural tour de force by Aussie filmmakers Amiel Courtin-Wilson and Michael Cody has finally made it to the big screen back home.

Ruin follows the lives of two young people living on the fringes of society in modern day Phnom Penh. Phirun (Rous Mony) is trying to get by doing odd jobs as a labourer, while Sovanna (Sang Malen) is a sex worker. Both are roughly treated by their employers, to the point where they simultaneously but independently go to desperately criminal measures to defend themselves and flee their respective plights.

By happenstance their paths diverge, and together they flee the city streets and plunge into the neighbouring jungle. On the run from the authorities and the less lawful out for revenge, a tentative attraction builds between the two damage souls.

Out of the chaos of the city, Phirun and Sovanna are like post trauma victims learning to make sense of their own lives while dealing with the unfamiliar intimacy that builds between them.

The premise itself is nothing new and the narrative slim, but Cody and Courtin-Wilson have fashioned a striking sensory journey borne out of the exotic locations and milieu they immerse us in.  The result is something delicate and beautiful, made all the more fragile by the unforgiving environment closing in around it.

Informed as much by Rob Mackenzie and Sam Petty’s soaring soundscapes and judicious use of silence, together with Ari Wegners occasionally impressionistic  cinematography, this is a truly visceral experience.

Ruin’s Venice Grand Jury Prize win was in the Horizon’s section, which showcases films that push the boundaries of filmmaking. Ruin’s great achievement is that it is at once raw and stylised. The organic nature of the storytelling gives the impression we’re watching the lives of real people, not surprising given Courtin-Wilson’s background as a documentarian (Bastardy, Chasing Buddha). Here though the verite approached is intercut with passages displaying an evocatively heightened look and sound.

Neither Mony nor Malen had any film experience before Ruin, which was probably a plus. There’s no technique to strip back in order to give such natural performances. Both are strikingly beautiful and have a tangible chemistry together.

This is a rare look at contemporary Cambodia, and while it’s initially confronting and uncomfortable, it crucially offers hope that love can grow in the harshest of surroundings.

The story may be intimate, but in every pther respect Ruin is a film that demands to be experienced on the big screen.


Ruin is currently in limited release nationally

Richard Leathem @dickiegee