Since its foundation back in the 15th century, Phnom Penh has been (off and on) the capital of the Khmer nation. Today, as the capital of Cambodia, it houses a population of nearing three million souls and is the nation’s economic, industrial and cultural heartland. Like most major cities in the region, it’s experiencing a housing crisis. In the midst of a rapid rebuilding project, families are being forced out of their homes with little or no compensation. This is the focus of White Building.
Samndang (Piseth Chhun) is an aspiring dancer who spends his nights earning a little money and hanging out with his friends Khana (Jany Min) and Tol (Sovann Tho). He lives in huge crumbling white edifice in the centre of the city with his mother (Ok Sokha) and father (Hout Sithorn). When it’s earmarked for demolition, the residents, largely low paid or retired former government workers, are offered a pittance in compensation. Some want to fight while others are resigned to the inevitable.
White Building is a vibrant portrait of the changing face of the Cambodian capital. It’s a similar story to many others happening across the world. Slum or poor housing replaced with expensive new apartments, forcing the (usually poor) residents into the suburbs due to spiralling housing costs and sharp practices. Instead of looking for easy answers, Kavich Neang’s film is a thoughtful study of a family in this position; tackling myriad societal issues at the same time. White Building is a slow-burn drama which rewards the patient.
White Building screens at London Film Festival.