Diamond Island is a newly developed piece of reclaimed land, separated from Phnom Penh by bridges, and the place where urban locals go for fresh air and entertainment. The construction sites of the many luxury condominiums being built also provide opportunities for work for Cambodians and this beautiful and sobering film starts with Bora leaving his rural village to find work there.
Bora works hard and makes friends with other young men living in the colourful, shabby encampments. They tease each other, sing karaoke together, compete for the attention of girls but there is a sense of family, of needing each other. Bora meets his elder brother by accident; Solei left home five years before and cut all ties with his family. Solei has found more affluent friends and invites Bora to join his world but it soon becomes clear that there is a price to be paid.
There is a lot to love about this film. It’s slow but there is so much to see and understand from each scene. The nuances of scenery, colour and character show us the poverty of the lives of so many and the irresistible lure of finding a better life. There are some clever uses of sound to help draw us in and out of moments and many scenes have a beautiful understanding of colour and tone. Its beauty and the warmth and camaraderie of the characters belie its ultimately grim message.
Bechdel test – fail