Friday, July 13, 2012

They Call It Myanmar (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

"They Call It Myanmar" is an eye opening underground look at what is also Burma, the large isolated country that borders China, Thailand and Laos. Not many outsiders know the daily life of this mysterious and polarized country and this is largely due to its oppressive regime. Myanmar is not democratic. 

The country is a curious case. The gap between rich and poor creates an abyss. People struggle to breathe and quench themselves with iron colored water, while just across the street, people sun themselves under what looks like gold leafed turrets surrounded by impervious  iron gates. 

Children as young as thirteen work crushing rocks or assembling necklaces for tourists. The newspapers tell the Burmese to be suspicious of all Western media that they might (but usually do not see).

Meanwhile the Burmese people are rooted in gentleness. Buddhism is in the soil and skin. The people revolve in the cycle of Karma, that is, good thoughts produce good rewards. They wholeheartedly believe in Reincarnation; if one does something bad, pain will follow. And all is suffering. Yet despite this indigenous gentleness, the many people on camera are often too terrified to speak, fearing government torture or arrest.

Director Robert H. Lieberman has a keen eye, portraying Myanmar in tiny filmed snippets, as if the filmed frames are small puffs of visual curry. Many of the speakers are blurred out or facially absent as the majority do not want to be identified. Because of this, the camera is often focused on the collar of a shirt or a gleaming silver watch that speaks more of a hunger for The West and free speech than a face ever could.

The film does a fine job of giving a solid historical overview, from the British colonization to The Flying Tigers and through lethal monsoons, to the beating of monks and the twenty year house arrest of Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung  San Suu Kyi, this film is nothing short of a pictorial encyclopedia, interspersed and peppered with the stuff of daily routine, at once raw and visceral. One gets the feeling that Lieberman is a benevolent CIA man from the Compassion Intelligence Agency and the film is better for it.

Throughout the whole of "They Call It Myanmar" you might almost be wishing that the people drop the guilty weight of Karma, dispel their fears like so many irritating narcotics and speak up as some have. Hopefully their external environment will soon mirror the large human hearts that beat within.  

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