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Karmalink (2022)

Location: Phnom Penh, Cambodia. It’s the near future, but things are massively different than modern day in terms of technology. With the availability of these new technologies a connection is made between the past and the present, and it becomes clear that the rabbit hole runs deeper than anyone could have expected. Karmalink tells the story of children as they strive to uncover the secrets of the past, and bring to life justice for the visions they have seen. Their journey is harrowing, but tenacious as they are, they refuse to be deterred.

The whole purpose of the narrative present in Karmalink is to create connections between the past and the present (more specifically past and present lives). However, that sentiment is difficult to understand throughout a good portion of the film. The first struggle is the language barrier–this is in no way a critique of Karmalink, but simply an acknowledgement that the language barrier will cause some issues for viewers. I found myself, at times, struggling to follow along with the narrative and keep up with the story as a result of this aspect of the film. In general the ideas present in Karmalink are a tad convoluted, and Writer-Director Jake Wachtel and Writer Christopher Seán Larsen combine two worlds that don’t appear to, on the surface, work well together–but things come together beautifully. There are moments when viewers (especially casual fans of cinema) will question how these things come together, and if it even makes any sense. It may take a true cinefile to appreciate what is being done here–but Wachtel and Larsen are on to something.

About halfway through the film when Dr. Vattanak Sovann (Sahajak Boonthanakit)–sort of the centerpiece of the entire film–takes the stage and very clearly and succinctly expresses his motivations and his plans. It’s at this moment, more than fifty minutes into Karmalink that it began to make sense to me what was occurring. That’s a long time for viewers to sit in the dark, a long time to remain focused on a film that hasn’t effectively provided context–and I can see viewers potentially shutting this film off before that point as a result of this shortcoming. With the combination of a slow start and that fickle language barrier, Karmalink will be a challenge for many to understand in the early going.

There are these moments of seemingly wonky cinematography, where it looks like Director of Photography Robert Leitzell struggled to effectively capture the things appearing on screen. However, based on the apparent expertise present throughout other facets of the film, it seems clear that Leitzell chose to do these things intentionally. Some of the cinematography throughout Karmalink is shaky and unfocused, and that plays along with the tone of the film in those moments. These decisions add to the drama and the intensity present at certain times in Karmalink–and he’s a prime reason that Karmalink is able to reach viewers in terms of tone and mood. Furthermore, in terms of aesthetic, Karmalink is exhilarating. The sets, the marriage of old and new, and the vibrant color present throughout the length of the film are inviting, but as previously mentioned, I think these are things that will appeal to true cinephiles and not to the casual fan of cinema.

Karmalink is both a project of passion and a story of passion. The real and fictional worlds come together to create something visually magnificent, and aesthetically this is one of the best films I’ve seen in some time. There are a number of things regarding the narrative that hold Karmalink back, however, and as a result of this I found the film, as a whole, to be very average. There are things about Karmalink that I love, but struggling with the narrative, and having to wait nearly an hour to finally get some real clarification in regard to that narrative, presented me with a sort of dilemma–one which I could not get past. I’m fascinated by the originality, but I needed more from the story, and the things I needed didn’t come soon enough.

Directed by Jake Wachtel.

Written by Jake Wachtel & Christopher Seán Larsen.

Starring Srey Leak Chhith, Leng Heng Park, Sahajak Boonthanakit, Cindy Sirinya Bishop, Ros Mony, etc.




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