City of Ghosts

Matt Dillon’s cool Cambodia flick.

City of Ghosts is set in Cambodia and is an offbeat, quirky treasure of a movie.

Ostensibly the story of an insurance scheme scammer who goes looking for some answers in Phnom Penh and ends up finding himself, the film is set against the foil of Cambodian culture which director Matt Dillon obviously admires and respects. Everywhere are images of temples, monks and timeless Asian calm while the Western protagonists chase their winding plots to violent conclusions.

The real joy of watching City of Ghosts is in watching the flotsam and jetsam of expatriate life acted to perfection by the likes of Gerard Depardieu who runs the local guest house. Loud, disorganised and stressed, he’s the archetypal expat trying to run a business in Asia where he belongs perhaps only by virtue of his resigned fatalism when everything goes wrong.

Or take the Australian in the brothel who insists he’s going to take his girl away from the ‘slave trader’ Papa-San and put her through beauty school back home. The bell rings, the cuddly toys are dropped to the floor and the prostitutes in mini skirts scuttle back behind the glass screen while the drunken Australian has to be restrained.

Watching City of Ghosts it’s clear the writers and directors have spent time in South east Asia. Such as when Dillon arrives in Bangkok and his business colleague introduces him to his fiance who promptly begins to give him a suggestive shoulder massage.

‘No, no! We talked about that, remember?’ he reproves her and it’s clear that like so many expats, his beloved was until recently a bar-girl.

Cambodia was, of course, the recent scene of some of the worst genocides the world has seen and the lawlessness left in the aftermath is captured well in City of Ghosts. A child can walk into the bar with someone’s leg in a sack, severed by the kidnappers and for Gerard Depardieu it’s just another day in Phnom Penh.

City of Ghosts has a great cast, dreamy cinematography and is at times brilliant as it depicts the random characters and incidents that characterise the life of foreigners in Asia. It’s also a homage to the Cambodian people whose humility and depth is represented by Dillon’s cycle-rickshaw driver. The plot may be a little formulaic as a bastard son goes looking for his father but City of Ghosts should be on every traveler’s viewing list.