Seeing my second Myanmar documentary in less than a week (cross-reference below) served more to augment the isolated nation’s stark contrast between opulent wealth and abject squalor than offer any detailed insights as to—in director Robert Liebermann’s own words—“How did the country get to this point?”
Not surprisingly, Aung San Suu Kyi, also figured prominently in the largely clandestinely shot film, yet the import of both her long-awaited acceptance speech as Nobel laureate and recent by-election success (her National League for Democracy party winning 40 of 45 seats) was never truly discussed.
Instead, the plight of the “ruined” country’s youngest inhabitants (beginning with wide-eyed innocence—not all born there are automatically citizens; the word “Muslim” not in the “script’s” vocabulary—closing with the first social-media generation before yielding the last frames to boy monks) bookend the production.
The Buddhist belief that “Life is suffering” was well illustrated: A too-young girl has her TB ulcers removed on camera without benefit of sterile instruments or any sort of medication by a well-meaning quack; a series of interviews with a bevy of boys already in the workforce repeatedly explains that they dropped out of school after just a year or so because the annual tuition of US$5 was far beyond their parents’ means.
Glittering pagoda gold (both in Rangoon—now Yangon—and especially at Kyaiktiyo, where the huge boulder “perched on a strand of Buddha’s hair” appears to defy the laws of gravity) draws Myanmar’s devout and many international tourists to worship or gawk, respectively.
But clearly MIA were the border conflicts (notably Thailand and Bangladesh—cross reference below) that pit ethnic minorities against each other and displaced boy soldiers crossing back into Myanmar to do never-ending battle with the country’s military powerhouse. To be sure, Suu Kyi reiterates her mantra that the nation can only unite and stand proudly on its own once again when all of its many tribes, religions and tongues learn how to work together.
The failure of mass uprisings against the predominantly ignorant, superstitious ruling generals (notably the Saffron Revolution of 2007 where the military literally put down their own faith) and preventable slaughter of tens of thousands of innocent citizens during the aftermath of Cyclone Nagris one year later (foreign aid—just miles away—was shunned because of the junta’s suspicion it would be a foot-in-the-door for the cynically opportunistic outside world: pathetically—given past actions of the British and particularly the Japanese who promised free rule to Suu Kyi’s father a year before his assassination in 1947—they had some cause for concern) does not bode well for the onetime economic juggernaut to rise above (there is no “Spider-Man” to the rescue ready to spin peace and universal dignity, cross-reference below) its despotic rulers’ systemic havoc anytime soon.
No Myanmar Spring here.
Tellingly, the comment-du-jour comes from a keen observer who remarked, when describing the nature of the vast majority of the population, “Sometimes [they] are too content.”
Of course, as with Anjelica Houston’s documentary, throughout the production the members of the junta are customarily mute. Yet where were Lieberman’s probing interviews with present-day British and Japanese officials to shed light on the filmmaker’s semi-redundant other question, “How did this happen?” JWR