“Diamond Island” feels like a little dream, a film that, at the end, you don’t finish as much as awaken from.
The director Davy Chou sets this wistful story on and around the island of the title, an area in Cambodia near Phnom Penh that is undergoing colossal redevelopment. Luxury buildings are being erected everywhere. The earth is always being moved and cranes reach into the sky.
There, 18-year-old Bora (Sobon Nuon) has come from his rural village to work in construction and send some of his earnings back home. He and several other young men labor during the days, then together stroll the vibrantly lit world after dark. One evening Bora runs into Solei (Cheanick Nov), his brother, who left the family years earlier.
The two begin to reestablish their relationship, and soon there’s tension as Bora is pulled between his new friends and his long-lost brother. But the film is mostly concerned with following these teenagers as they navigate such an uncertain stage of their lives. Scenes set at night are hypnotic in their colors and their sense of sweet melancholy; the men’s successes and failures at finding love are gentle and moving.
“Diamond Island” runs long in its final act as the script, by Mr. Chou and Claire Maugendre, dwells on its theme of a land and its people undergoing constant change. As with a dream, you can parse what you’ve watched for meaning or just savor what you’ve seen. For this compassionate film, either way works fine.
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