Cambodian filmmaker Rithy Panh ponders a world where animals have enslaved the human race in his latest experimental feature.
The films of Cambodian filmmaker Rithy Panh have long addressed humanity’s capacity for evil, but in Everything Will Be OK he examines (amongst other things) whether or not the same capabilities exist within animal society. Using the same style of elaborate hand-crafted miniature model-work found in many of the prolific filmmaker’s previous projects, in his latest film Panh shifts his perspective somewhat, telling a speculative story about a world where animals have taken over the world and enslaved humanity.
Born in Phnom Penh in 1964, Panh’s parents, siblings, and a number of his relatives all died in Khmer Rouge labour camps prior to his escape from Cambodia. Understandably, many of his films—such as S21: The Khmer Rouge Killing Machine (2003) or the Oscar-nominated The Missing Picture (2013)—have addressed the horrors that occured in his home country, using varying but always creative means to work through his own family’s story and broader related national issues. This history is still present in Everything Will Be Ok, but it plays out in the background of a central narrative that uses the question of whether or not the new animal rulers will repeat the same mistakes humans made during their period of primacy as a means to explore humanity’s propensity towards committing atrocities.
The film is idiosyncratic and surreal, and as a result, fairly difficult to describe effectively. Over a series of intricately crafted tableaux, the mobs of monkeys, boars, and lions that have taken charge of the planet are staged congregating within miniature landscapes. Within these, the animals are generally seen watching giant screens displaying archival material collected from across 20th-century human history, much of which involves violence, death, and brutality. Laid over the top is poetic narration voiced by Rebecca Marder and co-written by Panh with actress Agnès Sénémaud and writer Christophe Bataille. Musing on everything from art, cinema, technology, human nature, and political history, this narration is intellectual and wide-ranging, but often also difficult to process, feeling loose and rambling to the point that it occasionally feels like the French original language script may have been mistranslated.
The model landscape setups are beautiful and the craftsmanship of the miniature animals is always impressive. Some scenes resemble imagery seen in the animated films made in recent years by Wes Anderson, whilst others display the handmade touch found in the work of Aardman Animations. Everything Will Be Ok is distinct from this sort of animated film in two major ways. While the film’s subject matter is more complex and obviously much darker, the film also features very little motion. These sequences instead resemble a historical museum diorama, featuring stationery layouts which are brought to life by rich, involving sound design mixing string music with an array of squarks, squeals, oinks, and other animal noises.
Heavy on metaphor and allusion, the ideas explored in the film can sometimes seem vague and searching,