A glimpse into an unknown war proves to be enlightening
Last updated 3-12-09 at 2:05 p.m.
“The Betrayal” is a documentary film about a Lao family who emmigrated to the United States. The film examines how the family copes in their adopted country and how they are haunted by a war that many do not know about.
By Andrew Hamlin
Northwest Asian Weekly
“The very first thing I knew,” says Thavisouk “Thavi” Phrasavath, “was my country was at war, and my father was a soldier.”
Phrasavath speaks of his childhood in Laos. His father helped the United States fight a war that they did not even admit existed. As the documentary film “The Betrayal” unfolds, Phrasavath finds himself fighting his own war.
He doesn’t wear a uniform. It’s not the same war as his father’s. However, what is consistent is their dedication to their causes. Like his father, Phrasavath suffers enormous stress and makes significant sacrifices.
Thavi’s father, an officer of the Laotian Royal Army, worked with the CIA during the Vietnam War. Trying to curtail the North Vietnamese army, the United States dropped almost three million tons of bombs on Laos by 1973.
“The Betrayal” makes heavy use of wartime footage. Sometimes the viewer doesn’t exactly know where the footage comes from. This serves to make the film more frightening. A flock of birds can look like a squadron of bombers.
“This was war explaining itself to me,” said Phrasavath, recalling the body bags he had seen. He sometimes fumbles with his English. But through such remarks, he poetically reveals his bleak past.
His mother is a prominent figure in “The Betrayal.” She gave birth to 10 children. With her husband often being away, she gave birth to several of her children without his help.
She does not cry as she relates the struggles and horrors she’s lived through. Her mouth only tenses.
After the U.S. withdrew in 1975, the pro-communist Pathet Lao took over the Royal Laotian government.
Phrasavath’s father became a public enemy. He vanished one night as he was carted away in a jeep.
Phrasavath endured arrests and long interrogations. As his voice recalls them, the viewer sees a barred window leading into a room.
At the far end of that room, through an open doorway, we see a child playing. Phrasavath and his co-director Ellen Kuras summarize the hardship and lost innocence endured in this single image.
Kuras carefully juxtaposes Phrasavath’s different identities. At times, we see him with Asian gang members as they flick cigarettes and compare dragon tattoos. At other times, we see him sitting at his mother’s table, listening to her woes.
The children don’t respect their mother anymore. She sighs over this as an old woman who never learned English. It only takes a quick look at her children to see how they’ve grown up to identify themselves more with their adopted home in Brooklyn, NY, than in their country of origin.
Phrasavath’s mother initially encouraged him to escape to Thailand. She eventually followed him with seven of her remaining nine children. Her devastation regarding the two daughters left behind is very evident. But still she does not cry.
His mother expects Phrasavath to solve the family problems. But he has a family of his own to take care of. He also lacks the formal education and aptitude to execute her wishes.
Toward the end of the film, we learn something amazing about Phrasavath’s father. His mother finally cries. She loses herself in tears of joy.
However, the news does not lead to what Thavi and his mother expect. Thavi returns to his mother’s side more stressed and hurt than before.
“The Betrayal” concludes with a few betrayals. The strength of the film is driven by the strength of the family. Phrasavath and his mother sometimes can’t stand to think of what has become of their family, but duty and love will not allow them to turn away. (end)
“The Betrayal” plays March 13–19 at the Grand Illusion Cinema, 1403 Northeast 50th St. in Seattle’s University District. For prices and showtimes, call 206-523-3935 or visit www.grandillusioncinema.org.
Andrew Hamlin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.