One month ago, I came upon this trailer :
I didn’t have the time to go and see the film, but I soon discovered it was based upon the novel “The Gate”, from french anthropologist François Bizot ; Bizot arrived in Cambodia in 1965 to study Buddhism, and got out of the country…ten years later. It’s only on June, 2001 that he published “The Gate”, which is the story of these ten cambodian years.
A short documentary in french was produced in 2004 : “Derrière le portail”, but it was not enough to document this incredible story. Another ten years later, at last, “The Gate” film is here.
“Le portail”, the original title in french, is an absolutely stunning book. Because of the style of the writer, because of the experience he shares, because he stands back and honestly, honesty with his feelings and responsabilities.
After his arrival in 1965, Bizot settles down in the countryside, in the Siem Reap district, he learns the khmer language with the local natives, and studies the religious traditions. He marries a cambodian woman with whom he has a daughter, and he finally works at the world-famous Angkor Archaeological Park, helping restoring ancient art pieces.
At the beginning of the 70’s, the Red Khmer regime slightly extends the territories it controls, becomes more aggressive against foreign forces and people. On October 10th, 1971, Bizot is arrested by a Red Khmer commando and put to jail in a re-education center. He will spend 2 months and a half in this prison camp, and will become the only westerner to have survived imprisonment by the Red Khmer. You can wonder how. How did he manage to escape such a fierce regime, how did he convince his jailer Duch to let him go ?? Of course he was there to study khmer arts and religions, he spoke the khmer language very fluently, but when you face such formidable forces, his book tells you that’s not enough.
Well, what saved him, were his fine words. He spent hours and hours discoursing with Duch, confronting the red khmer rhetoric with the khmer people life, with reality. For weeks, he spoke with Duch, engaging a strange relationship, a mix of fear, respect, hope and friendship. Bizot learned later that Duch spoke into his favour when meeting other chiefs at the military headquarters, allowing him to pursue his researches for three years.
This is the first part of the book, the second is even more exciting : in april 1975, the Red Khmer forces take control of the capital city Phnom-Penh. Like many other foreigners, Bizot is forced to take shelter in the french embassy. At that time, and because of the french colonial presence in Cambodia, it’s nearly the last foreign building where foreigners can take refuge. So there is a massive arrival of refugees, and the beginning of 15 days of madness, fury, a unique and terrible moment in history. I would not like to spoil the incredible moments Bizot describes, just read this book, it’s unbelievable. You can read “The Gate” in english, it’s available in many editions in hardcover or paperback, of course you can find it in…your favorite library !
The lesson of this book is in the title of this post, it’s dedicated to the victims of the Charlie Hebdo slaughter and to the freedom of speech.