As the documentary "The Betrayal (Nerakhoon)" moves deeper into its story, the meaning of its title grows less categorical and more affecting. Exploring a Lao family's experience during and since the Vietnam War, the film chronicles the treacheries of geopolitics and the upheaval of exile.
Abandonment surfaces at every turn, taking on a more intimate impact well after the Phrasavath family has settled, uneasily, in Brooklyn. Its saga, told with soul-stirring specificity, is also in a sense the history of 20th century bloodshed and dislocation, hauntingly anticipated in 5,000-year-old Lao prophecies.
The film is the directorial debut of Ellen Kuras, the prodigiously talented cinematographer of such features as "Swoon," "I Shot Andy Warhol" and "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind." For 23 years, between projects for Martin Scorsese and Spike Lee, the New York-based D.P. continually returned to "The Betrayal." Her co-director, co-writer and editor, Thavisouk Phrasavath, is also the film's subject, an immigrant whom Kuras met when she set out to learn the Lao language.
"The Betrayal" is very much about language: the sound of Lao in Thavi's unflinching conversations with his mother, his poetic voice-over reminiscences in English and, not least, the language of film as an instrument of memory and recapitulation. Kuras and her collaborator have arranged two decades' worth of material -- cinema verite sequences, photo- graphically enhanced archival imagery and interviews -- with a potent intricacy.