Anger of the Spirits is Danish film maker Thomas Weber Carlsen's first documentary film. Not that you'd know it when you watch his fascinating, contemporary account of a people who are remote from the mainstream world both geographically and culturally. Weber Carlsen spent a year filming in various communities of the Tampuan — an indigenous tribe in northeastern Cambodia. As the year unfolds we see through the eyes and experiences of five main characters how the traditions and livelihood of these remarkable people are being threatened by the invasion of outside influences.
Whether the topic concerns villagers selling their ancestral land, the younger generation abandoning the "old ways" and wanting to better their lives or their conversion to Christianity, the audience senses that the spirits are indeed angry.
Among the most comprehensive contributions to the currently small body of anthropological knowledge on the Tampuan, Weber Carlsen's film is exotic, intriguing and challenging. In one scene we see a group of Tampuan in traditional costume performing a dance that their ancestors have performed for countless generations. We feel privileged to catch a rare outsider's glimpse into such a private affair — that is until our narrator explains that the dance is staged for a television production crew who have realized that there is profit to be made. In other scenes we are introduced to Lon Dom, an elderly spirit medium who knows the "old ways" perhaps better than any living Tampuan. It is especially through her eyes that we experience a people who, like so many others in the modern world, are at the precipice of irreversible changes to the very traditions that make them so distinct among the human race.
Our main guides and interpreters throughout are two young Tampuan men who, it can be said, represent the aspirations of the next generation. Pon Duin and Leang Venai are perhaps a new spirit among the Tampuan — that of pioneer. Both understand the value of education and, against all odds, struggle to pursue it. The audience will probably be surprised when they learn that such single-minded pursuit of education is ultimately not for their own gain but to benefit others in their village.
A word of warning should be given before watching Anger of the Spirits. Weber Carlsen's desire to be as faithful as possible to the contemporary lives of his subjects extends to including scenes of animal sacrifice. Viewers may find these scenes disturbing knowing that they are not done using special effects. We would be challenged to describe these ritual acts as anything except animal cruelty. Whether you close your eyes or fast-forward those particular scenes, or if you want the full picture to include that which you may find distasteful, Anger of the Spirits will be a fascinating educational and spiritual journey.
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