A night at the movie theatre in Cambodia
This was a new one. I looked at the poster on the wall, hesitating for a moment on what to do.
“No shoe removal” is one of the commandments in the Wittertainment Code of Conduct. The code mentions one exception: if you’re in Japan, you can go ahead and take off your shoes. My current geographical position wasn’t Japan, it was Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia. Japan was in fact a several hour flight away, but it was a great del closer than Sweden. So perhaps the far-east rules could apply anyway? And besides – even if it isn’t mentioned in the code, shouldn’t the first rule for good behaviour at the theatre be that you follow any guidelines given by the ushers?
3 dollar 50 cents per night
I looked at another note, which informed me that the entrance fee was 3,50 dollars for the entire night, including several movies. 3,50 dollars. Where I come from you wouldn’t even get the smallest sized popcorn boxes for that amount. It’s not that surprising though when you think closer about it. Different markets, different rules. If the ticket prices were European, you wouldn’t sell many tickets in Cambodia, if any at all. They take as much as they think they can from the audience, no more, no less.
Chicken nuggets and French fries
The third thing my eyes fell on was a menu. For someone who prefer theatres to be food free zones, the menu looked scary. Chicken nuggets? French fries? Pizza? Curry? If people really brought all that stuff into the theatre, I feared that I had a quite unpleasant ride ahead of me.
As it turned out, it wasn’t as bad as you could think. Perhaps we were just lucky, picking a screening where popcorn was the only thing that was consumed. (Popcorn is annoying too, but I’ve given up fighting them at this point. There’s no escape from it, not in Sweden, nor in Cambodia. They’re what make the wheels of cinema keep spinning. Or from a different point of view: movies are nothing but vehicles for popcorn sales.) Or maybe the ventilation was excellent. In any case I couldn’t sense any lingering smell of food, not even from the empty plates that were carried out from the previous show.
Beds instead of seats
But let’s move along into the screening room. It was a small one, seating approximately 20 people. No IMAX, but with a screen big enough to make it feel like a real theatre rather than as a glorified living room for home movie watching.
What made it stand out however, compared to what I’m used to, was that it didn’t have ordinary seats. It had beds (and a couple of sofas).
The obvious advantage of bed seating is the comfort. It’s basically like watching the film slacking in your favourite couch. I’m fairly short so I could stretch out my legs fully. Perfect for my constitution. I can imagine it’s less than perfect for tall people, who need to wrap up their legs in order not to kick people in the row in front.
Then there is the problem that too much comfort can be a problem when you watch movies. Watching a thriller or a comedy is fine from a horizontal position, but slower movies can be a bit of a challenge. And how intimate do you want to be with the one sitting beside you? There are no physical barriers between you and your neighbour. Fine if you’re a love couple on a date, but a little intimidating if you’re seated by a stranger.
Finally I need to say something about the programming. I hadn’t expected Cambodia to be the place to go if you want to see the most recent releases. It’s a small and very poor country about as far as you can get from Europe and North America and you could imagine that it would take some time for movies to reach this market. But in fact it’s the opposite. Most movies seem to open in Cambodia either earlier, or at the same time as they open in Sweden. As an additional bonus they also screen classics, something that is nearly impossible to see on a big screen where I live, unless you join a film club.
Movie theatres in Phnom Penh
Sadly I only managed to make one theatre visit during my three week trip in Cambodia. I ended up at The Flicks, which is run by expat volunteers. There are several other movie theatres in Phnom Penh, among them The Empire, which has a similar concept, also offering comfortable beds and brand new films mixed up with classics.
If you ever visit Cambodia as a tourist (which I sincerely recommend you to do, it’s as beautiful as it’s heartbreaking), don’t miss to spend at least a night in a cinema. It’s cheap, it’s fun and it’s a movie experience unlike what you get at home.