A Laotian story

Photo: Pandinlao Productions

The Betrayal (Nerakhoon), a documentary by Ellen Kuras and Thavisouk Phrasavath now playing at the IFC Center, is an absorbing and beautiful film about a family of Laotian refugees whose new life in gangland Brooklyn is not the heaven their mother dreamed of.

The film briefly covers the U.S. involvement in Laos during the Vietnam War. The family’s father was a Laotian soldier who worked for the CIA. When the Communists took over Laos, they took him away, and the family’s lives were threatened, so they fled to Thailand and then New York.

The mother and eight kids, suffering the loss of the father and the way of life they’d always known, were dumped in a shared apartment next to a crack house somewhere in the vicinity of Bushwick. I would have liked to know more about how they were able to adjust; how did they get from this situation, with nothing and no command of English, to the New Jersey house where some of the later interviews take place?

This is what immigrant aid societies are for, but they didn’t have one. (Instead, they had to deal with Asian gangs.) The kids go to school and learn English, and footage from 1985 shows them as pure Brooklyn teens. The mother’s struggle to keep her family together, and that of her son Thavisouk (co-director) to help her while he was still a child himself, is the heart of the story. There is more than one betrayal, but they survive.

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One Response to “A Laotian story”

  1. […] And, of course, congratulations to Academy Award nominees Richard Jenkins for The Visitor and Ellen Kuras and Thavisouk Phrasavath for the documentary The Betrayal (Nerakhoon). […]