Amiel Courtin-Wilson, one of the directorial duo responsible for Ruin, wants to make films that hit you right in the gut. He said in a Q&A after the film’s screening at ACMI that he’s interested in the visceral quality of cinema, in its abilities to make us feel before we think. Courtin-Wilson and Michael Cody, with their spectacularly cinematic film about two runaways in Cambodia, have certainly succeeded in making a film that leaves you stunned and unable to form an immediate opinion.
Instead of plot and dialogue the filmmakers rely on imagery and soundscapes, as well as the chemistry between their two actors, to tell the film’s story. Phirun (Rous Mony) and Sovanna (Sang Malen) meet by chance while strolling through town.
Sovanna is escaping a life of sex work with a violent pimp — Phirun is jobless and miserable, living with his cruel father. Staying at Phirun’s place, Sovanna is abused by the father, at which point Phirun saves her (in a brutally violence scene) and the two escape together, with no concrete plans for their futures.
The directors place heavy importance on their two performers. Not a traditionally trained actor, Malen is an acrobat whom they came across in Cambodia, whereas Phirun has some experience in acting. The authentic casting provides for fascinating performances, especially from Malen, whose coy confidence and visible vulnerability are emphasized by the camera’s lingering close-ups and almost perpetual tilt.
For those enthusiastic about ambient music, the true star of Ruin is its soundtrack. A foreboding, powerful piece from composer Johann Johannson (Prisoners, Arrival) erupts when the two characters meet, and peppered throughout are moody, drone-ambient tunes which perfectly complement cinematographer Ari Wegner’s slow-motion shots.
While often the film is so convinced of its impressionistic approach that certain scenes drag and cause the mind to wander, Ruin is overall a richly rewarding piece of cinema that ought not to be missed by film students, cinephiles and anyone who needs convincing of the visceral powers of cinematography.
Tom Bensley is a freelance writer in Melbourne who reviews anything he attends, watches or reads. It’s a compulsion, really. Follow him @TomAliceBensley.
Check Ruin’s Facebook page for details about screenings and future showings.