Education About Asia

The Nine Lives of Norodom Sihanouk

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Throughout Cambodia’s modern history, marked as it has been by drama and tragedy in almost equal measure, there has been one constant: the presence of Norodom Sihanouk in his multiple roles. He has been king twice; chief of state; prime minister several times; and most controversially, an associate of the Khmer Rouge, who took power under Pol Pot in 1975. Still alive today at the age of eighty-nine and enjoying the title of King Father, Sihanouk is one of international politics’ great survivors. He is also a man about whom commentators have offered sharply contrasting opinions.

Against this background, the release of French filmmaker Gilles Cayatte’s The Nine Lives of Norodom Sihanouk offers a fascinating and often-critical analysis of Sihanouk’s remarkable life. Given the longevity of its subject, the fifty-two-minute documentary can only sketch in the principal events of Sihanouk’s life: his unexpected accession to the Cambodian throne in 1941; his rise to domestic political power by the 1950s; his efforts to pursue a “neutral” foreign policy, which in fact depended heavily on expectations of Chinese support; and his association with Pol Pot’s sanguinary Khmer Rouge after he was overthrown by former conservative allies in 1970.