Ruin, the new film from Hail’s Amiel Courtin-Wilson and Michael Cody, is the most beautifully shot dirge you’ll see all year.

Made in Cambodia with a minimal crew and not much of a script, it follows a prostitute on the run with a young factory worker. Before they meet, Sovanna (Sang Malen) gets beaten by her pimp, who then locks her in a toilet and tells her he’s going to cut off her hands when he returns. Instead, she electrocutes him and bolts. Meanwhile, Phirun (Rous Mony) has been fired from his job for fighting with a co-worker. Without dialogue for long stretches, the film is elliptical on how they meet. Sovanna just seems to fall into step with Phirun, a surprising development given her perpetual, and justified, fear of sexual violence.

And it’s the bouts of sexual violence that linger in the memory. Two such scenes are followed by bloody retribution. The last and most unpleasant features a pallid Englishman who makes Sovanna do star jumps and bark like a dog before he rapes her. Then she pounds his head in with a brick. Scenes like this are interspersed with impressionistic tableaus of Cambodian oases, and of our couple throwing moony looks at each other. The film ends in a romantic idyll reminiscent of the one that closes Samson And Delilah, in which the brutalised find solace in the land, and in one another.

Beautiful-looking films about degradation run the risk of jarring, especially when the filmmakers are tourists. But the problem with Ruin is not so much its polish as its strange combination of horror and dreamlike languorousness. Courtin-Wilson and Cody made it up as they went, responding to their surroundings, and it shows. Absolute freedom can lead to truth; more often it ends in cliché.

2/5 stars

Ruin is showing at Sydney Film Festival on June 10 and 11.

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