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Kenneth Turan: 'The Betrayal'

January 22, 2009|Kenneth Turan

From its very first shot, "The Betrayal" is a work of beauty, which is what happens when you have a world-class cinematographer -- Ellen Kuras -- as your director. But "The Betrayal" is considerably more than pretty pictures. It is a passion project for Kuras, a film she worked on for 23 years as she became increasingly involved in the story of her co-director, Thavisouk Phrasavath, familiarly known as Thavi, his mother and his nine siblings.

A personal story poetically told, "The Betrayal" also resonates with connections to political events. It was politics that forced Thavi and his family to flee from their native Laos to the United States and politics that led to the series of breaches of faith that gave this emotional film its title.

In 1975, Thavi's father, who had helped the U.S. Army with clandestine military operations, was arrested by the pro-Communist government, leaving much of the family to flee to Thailand and later immigrate to the United States, a place they had been led to believe was "one step away from heaven." Initially deposited next to a Brooklyn crack house, Thavi's family had enormous difficulties staying sane and whole in this country, and Thavi himself worried that "living in America, we are losing ourselves."

Kuras' film beautifully intertwines this story of cultural abandonment with stories of more personal betrayal, of broken promises and shattered dreams. Yet, because of the beauty of the cinematography and the resilience of Thavi and his family, this story never loses its hold on us.

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