Where Bamboos Grow Strong (Dove i bambu’ crescono forti)

Director: Valentina Belli, Producer: Salvatore Braca, Production: Pandataria Film, Language: Italian & Khmer, Italy, 60′, 2020, Rights: World no Italy 

In the strip of land that stretches from the Cambodian countryside to the Angkor forest near Siem Reap, far from the chaos
of a city trying to cope with the consequences of the modern world, master Ros Serey and his beloved student Yort live in a
pure and authentic dimension. A world suspended between tradition and discipline, out of time and space, where the young farmer and his master lead a humble life protecting their country’s cultural identity by trying to keep it alive for as long as possible. Their bond is strengthened through the teaching of an ancient martial art called Kbach Kun Boan Khmer. 10-year-old Johnny spends his days playing around on a patch of land that stretches from the forest to the city centre. He manages to survive, together with his friend Chang, thanks to little expedients, until he bumps into Yort and his teaching.

When I first met Master Ros Serey, he was teaching in the middle of the dusty and dirty road in front of his house, surrounded by cows and tractors loaded with children coming back from school. I was immediately introduced to Yort, his “model pupil”, who shyly smiled raising only one side of his upper lip while cupping a hand over his mouth to conceal his chipped upper incisors, timidly lowering his eyes a typical expression of Cambodian modesty.

I spent the whole afternoon watching them, fascinated by their training, returning every day for over a month. Yort and
the Master’s younger pupils were extremely happy to help me understand all the ins and outs of their art, enormously proud of their rather original English. I managed in this way to create a relationship that gave me a better and deeper perception of the beauty I was witnessing. The Kbach Kun Boran Khmer, an ancient fighting technique inspired by the Hindu myth of Hanuman, the invincible Monkey warrior, is based on the deadly use of weapons. It is not just a mere facet of Khmer folklore, but a symbol of Cambodia’s cultural identity and the physical representation of the Cambodian people’s history, culture and spirituality, represented by a series of movements that once meant violence and death, but now constitute an enchanting mystic dance. I was particularly impressed by Yort’s level of commitment, which found in his master Ros Serey’s “mission” a perfect counterpart. Neither of them approached that martial art in an “agonistic” way, despite dedicating most of their day to it, interrupted only by Yort’s farming work and the master’s duties as the “kru” of the village, (a sort of shaman, a doctor specialized in traditional medicine and custodian of the most ancient Khmer traditions).

The master had no interest in training Yort to fight in competitions. He saw these as trash television shows where the martial art he cherished so much was deliberately misrepresented. In fact, Yort wasn’t training to fight at all, nor had he the faintest intention of doing so, even if any sort of competition would probably have earned him more money than the cucumbers he cultivated and sold at the market. When I asked Yort why he didn’t want to fight in competitions, he answered quite simply, “Why should I? I love my people! I don’t want our Khmer culture to be forgotten, I’m only learning so that I can hand my knowledge down to others” or as the master said, “to the young buds of today who will be the strong bamboo of tomorrow”. In other words to young boys like Johnny.

 

Directors biog:

Born in Rome in 1981.She graduated in Cinematography at the Centro Sperimentale di Cinematografia (2008-2010). She has made projects together with director Pasquale Marino: from mockumentaries to fashion films . She has also worked in the field of advertising filming commercials for international brands such as Puma. She has worked as DOP together with the top directors of Italian music videos like Marco Missano and Fabrizio Conte. In 2014, she began a career path that led her to explore the relationship between cinema and territory, in suburban life, like in “Introduction to Movie-making”, set in the poor Roman suburb of San Basilio, where she went on to film her first movie as director: “SanBa”, for Kinesis Film (Montreal Cinema du Monde FilmFest, 2015; Taormina Film Fest 2015).