It surprised me to discover that recently released movies of some quality are available to watch in three Phnom Penh movie houses.
But banish any thoughts of desirable fare at conventional cinemas, which exist here in Phnom Penh seemingly to screen mainly combat, science fiction and action films of questionable merit and sometimes of recent vintage. (Actually, Noah was showing the week of its U.S. release.)
Before the Khmer Rouge horror, there were some 30 grand cinemas in Phnom Penh filled with cigarette smoke and rapt audiences. They are now gone, but for two that cling to their original intent. At least one is a nightmarish slum.
In a shopping mall, the Legend is one of three multiplexes as the place to go for overwrought fare in air-conditioned comfort and 3D. Among those “coming soon” as I drafted this post last month were Godzilla, Captain America and How to Train Your Dragon, among a slew of others (pun intended.) I have never been inside those theaters.
Instead, we favor the nonprofit Flicks, which has a venue that is a 10-minute stroll from home as well as a second Flicks that takes a bit more than half an hour to reach on foot and five or 10 minutes on a tuk-tuk. Each charges $3.50 and you can see all a day’s offerings for that one ticket.
All three theaters remind me of a shoebox, narrow and not particularly long. If either the non-profit or for-profit Empire — which bills itself as an art house and is close to the second Flicks — seats more than 40 filmgoers, I’d be surprised. (The farther theaters are in the Riverside area, which teems with expats and those who love them. . . if only for an hour or so.)
Regarding the Flicks, I just read that the amiable Dutch fellow who took it over following its 2008 founding basically invented couch surfing.
He also runs the Phnom Penh International Film Festival, and I was among 23 folks who responded to his e-mail seeking volunteers to help winnow down the possibilities for the fall event. Consequently, I have been spending a couple of hours a few afternoons a week this month at Flicks enduring more duds than winners. One film from overseas was so laughably bad that I’ve recommended its inclusion as the best bad movie of the festival. But a short from Italy was strikingly creative and funny in a good way.
Another occasional movie option is at Meta House, the German Cambodian Cultural Center, which shows films in a casual roofed area adjoining the facility’s bar/restaurant on a semi-open deck.
The Empire and the Flicks provide two or three padded platforms with small pillows for patrons who wish to recline close to the screen and cushioned wicker armchairs or loveseats on a few higher levels. Each also sells beverages, including beer, snacks and more substantial food that can be ordered and delivered during the movies. Meta House features spare regular seating in seven or eight regular rows.
(For a friend’s take on the Flicks, click here.)
I’m still somewhat disoriented by the interruptions and the sound of flatware being wielded, yet the informality is rather agreeable.
We were able to see Philomena, 12 Years a Slave, Gravity and Nebraska before the Academy Awards, among other offerings that were pretty new — e.g. Captain Phillips and Her. Cambodia’s censors have so far delayed, and probably prevented, screenings of The Wolf of Wall Street, but I’d probably pass on that film anyway.
Still, censorship doesn’t prevent the Empire from providing gay films, even the graphic Stranger by the Beach, one time a week. Meta House did likewise during Phnom Penh’s mostly invisible gay pride week, also with a surprisingly graphic offering.
One nice aspect of the shoebox theaters, which boast air conditioning, is that the schedules change daily with films showing in rotation sometimes only once a week, sometimes twice a night and more often on weekends. The Killing Fields is always available, and reservations — yes, reservations!) — are recommended for it. Recently, Kramer vs. Kramer also was being shown, so it is not recent movies all the time. Unfortunately.
It is nice to have options that I didn’t expect, including a can of Anchor beer with that freshly made popcorn ordered salty or sweet.