Academic journal article Film & History

The Nine Lives of Norodom Sihanouk (2009)

Academic journal article Film & History

The Nine Lives of Norodom Sihanouk (2009)

Article excerpt

The Nine Lives of Norodom Sihanouk (2009)

Directed by Gilles Cayatte

Produced by Christiane Graziani

Distributed by Icarus Films

52 minutes

An old saying has it that it is not the cards you're dealt that matter, but how you play them. This engaging documentary focuses on a man who arguably played a consistently bad hand with great skill. If the test of politics is survival, Norodom Sihanouk must be counted as a master. While neither praising nor condemning the man who dominated Cambodia for more than half a century, this film reveals a man who somehow always managed to survive

When appointed King of Cambodia by the French in 1941, he was meant to play the part of a helpless puppet, content to live in luxury while France exploited his nation. When his European masters became bogged down in their war against the insurgent Vietnamese, led by Ho Chi Minn, Sihanouk cleverly forced the overstretched French to grant Cambodia its independence in 1953. In an unexpected move, he then abdicated the throne and made himself Prime Minister. Fiercely proclaiming his nation's neutrality, Sihanouk played all sides of the Cold War and coaxed aid from the Soviet Union, the United States, and the Peoples' Republic of China. With these funds, he began to modernize Cambodia by improving education and building highways.

As the American war against Vietnam intensified, so too did the pressure on Sihanouk to choose sides. In a delicate and complex balancing act, the Cambodian government allowed Vietnamese troops to use part of its territory for the Ho Chi Minn Trail, which fed troops and supplies into South Vietnam. At the same time, he refused to join in the war against the Americans. When President Nixon tired of Cambodia's independence, Sihanouk was deposed in a US-led coup d'état

While many leaders would have accepted their fate and retired to a life of comfort in France, the wily Cambodian leader went to China. …

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