White Building: Review

White Building: Review

White Building: Review.

It’s not often that a film comes out that has a lot to say about the state of the world, but does so in such a rich and detailed story that’s charming and empathetic as it is swift and mannered. Cambodian director Kavich Neang’s film White Building is a very impressive display of the harsh realities of living day-to-day in working poverty, while daydreaming of a better life in stardom—as the film expertly weaves together textures, nuance, and a tangible sense of place and characters.

Written by Daniel Mattes and Neang and directed by Neang (Last Night I Saw You Smiling), White Building is a coming-of-age film that follows Nang, played by Piseth Chhun in his feature film debut, a young man who lives in a cramped and crowded apartment complex in Phnom Penh.

He dreams of being a famous dancer as a winner of Cambodia’s Next Superstar contest with his friends, but when a real estate company offers to buyout his home’s residents, his family has to choose to take the money and move, or stay in their home and lose everything.

Although the film is small in scale, it feels like the center of the world with energy, momentum, and life—as it bounces from rough reality and joyous dream sequences with ease. Neang drops you into the story, but after a few moments, it seems like you already know the characters’ motivations, desires, and responsibilities. The character Nang is ambitious, but not talented, while his friends placate him with trips into the city center to busk in restaurants to make money from tourists.

He hangs out, plays soccer, makes TikTok videos, and flirts with girls, all while dreaming of fame. However, it’s not meant to be and deep down inside he knows it. He’s torn between his dreams for himself and obligations to his family. Neang conveys so much ambition and disappointment in Nang, while Chhun offers a stellar performance oozing with both charisma and melancholy.

Throughout the film, we get a sense that there’s something larger happening in the background. The city is getting more and more urbanized with a lot of construction with high rises and luxury condos going up. This is reflected in the bigger story of self-eviction of Nang’s home. A real estate company nearly doubles their initial offer for residents, while some jump at the opportunity to move and others just want to stay in their homes. But, it feels like all of his construction isn’t for the people who already live there, but for new residents with heftier wallets and pocketbooks.

In addition, Nang’s father, played by Hout Sithorn (Same Same But Different), wants to hold out for more money. He’s bedridden from a toe infection that increasingly gets worse and worse, while he’s stubborn and prideful about leaving the place he’s called home for more than 40 years. There’s a heartbreaking subplot that involves his injury and lack of funds, which hits close to home for audiences—especially in America. It feels consistent with the rest of the film and its themes.

White Building is an excellent film that’s worth your time and attention—especially since it’s well-paced with a brisk 90-minute running time. The movie is well-constructed and thoughtful, while its characters and themes feel intimate and meaningful. It’s also smart and clever with something to say about the pitfalls and tough reality of Capitalism, lack of healthcare, and gentrification in urban settings. It’s highly recommended.

Meanwhile, White Building hits home video and streaming on Amazon Prime Video and Vimeo on Demand on September 12.

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Rudie Obias lives in Brooklyn, New York. He’s a writer and editor who is interested in cinema, pop culture, music, NBA basketball, science fiction, and web culture. His work can be found at IGN, Fandom, TV Guide, Metacritic, Yahoo!, Battleship Pretension, Mashable, Mental Floss, and of course, BRWC.


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