Pol Pot’s Birthday is a comedy short film built on a bizarre premise, but one that I have to say in this case works.
The Khmer Rouge government has fallen, and Pol Pot and his remaining band of followers are back to roaming in the jungle, biding their time as they plot a comeback. The film takes place in a bunker, which has been set up roughly like a corporate office. Indeed, the whole film—and this is the comedic twist—imagines Pol Pot as the equivalent of a nightmarish corporate boss, and his entourage as a bunch of totally intimidated white collar toadies desperately trying to stay on his good side.
Pol Pot enters his office, and four or five of his people tentatively step out from behind office furniture and such, murmuring “Surprise,” like they don’t know if they’d be in more trouble refraining from participating in this ritual, or genuinely startling the boss. A very sorry-looking cake is extended to Pol Pot in an apologetic, fearful manner.
Pol Pot says very little the whole time, just glancing around with a suspicious air, ensuring no one can relax. He mutters only an occasional remark such as, “The cake was bigger last year.”
In this tense atmosphere, the men make feeble efforts to engage in conventional office party-like behavior—making hesitant, inane small talk about their astrological signs and such, and presenting little gifts to the boss.
Imagine a birthday party for Anthony from the classic Twilight Zone episode “It’s a Good Life” and you’ll have a sense of the mood in the room.
Both the small talk and the gifts are hilarious, but really it’s the set-up that makes the humor. Think about it: In that situation, what kind of birthday gift for Pol Pot wouldn’t be laughably absurd?
The premise of Pol Pot’s Birthday is an impressive instance of thinking outside the box, and the execution is solid. A clear winner.