Ruin – Venice 70 Orizzonti

Amiel Courtin-Wilson and Michael Cody direct an almost experimental documentary-like romantic film set in Cambodia. Special Jury Prize of 70th Venice Orizzonti section.


Amiel Courtin-Wilson is an Australian director, producer and artist. He has directed numerous short films and documentaries. In 2011 he is collaborating with the producer Michael Cody for his first feature-length film Hail. The film debuted at the Orizzonti section of the 68th Venice Film Festival. Two years later, they are both working again together, as co-directors this time, for the film Ruin and they return to the Orizzonti section of the 70th Venice Film Festival.

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Phirun (Rous Muni) is 19 years old worker and lives in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. After a wrongful accusation in his work, he injures his employer and he runs away. Sovanna (Siek Somalen) is a young prostitute and her pimp abuses her. She decides to take revenge and escape from the house that she stays. Phirun and Sovanna will meet each other by chance and their connection would be immediate. A brutal and sudden murder committed in self-defense will force them both leave Phnom Penh and look for refugee in the jungle and a local hotel. Their relationship will evolve.

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Ruin is a pure visual film that follows the classic pattern of dramatic romances. There are no surprises in the well-known routine of boy meets girl scenario and the directors who are also co-writers don’t try to hide this. Their main focus is not the story but the way to be told. Through an extended road trip the heroes travel from the suffocating and inanimate Phnom Penh to the wild jungle of Cambodia. The directors just follow that path by changing the views between Phirun and Sovanna. While watching their travel, their story goes through a quite predictive route and there are some twists that just add up some agony to the final result.

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Technically, Ruin shares many similarities with their previous collaboration, Hail. They use once more non-professional actors, the shoot on natural location and they prefer a real-life story. Finally everything is based on the power of image and they create again an amalgam of documentary and video art that has some experimental touches. That technique is sometimes interesting but the lack of the powerful scenes, like those seen in Hail, blocks the sentimental climax. It is of course quite interesting to watch the evolution of heroes’ sentiments and how a random meeting could drive an initial friendly relationship to sexual desire and in the end love.

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Both directors used their field of expertise during the creation of the film. Courtin-Wilson’s films always follow social outsiders and misfits. Cody was a news correspondent in Phnom Penh. The film was shot randomly and the directors changed many times the order of the scenes in order to have a narrative arc. The elliptical storyline combined with the almost unconnected sequence of the shots could be interpreted as a road trip through symbols and even dreams. Undoubtedly the impressionistic aspects of both artists overlap any logical narration. There is no need to read through the film, they just ask for feelings.

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Amiel Courtin-Wilson and Michael Cody used a Dante’s phrase to express their thoughts on Ruin: “The more perfect a thing, the more it feels pleasure and pain”. Probably that statement sums up in the best way the overall feelings of their heroes and probably of the whole film itself. Ruin should be watched more as an experience and less as a pure fictional film. When you are open to something different then you may travel to your personal ideal jungle, otherwise you can’t survive in the already too cynical world of Ruin’s heroes.

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