Monday, May 16, 2011

New documentary BURMA SOLDIER, via HBO, sheds some light on a dark country

We don't hear much about Burma, or the Republic of the Union of Myanmar, as it is now officially known -- unless it's to learn of yet another indignity heaped upon its off-and-on imprisoned people's leader Aung San Suu Kyi or upon the people them-selves. You'd have to travel to African to find a country in which the people suffer as much in silence and poverty, even as their leaders and military live the high life. Which makes BURMA SOLDIER, the new docu-mentary to debut on HBO 2 this Wednes-day, May 18, of particular interest. The film gives us an inside look at the country through the eyes of former soldier in that military.

In this 70-minute film from documentarians Nic Dunlop (shown at right, whose first film as co-director/writer/
producer this is), together with vets Ricki Stern and Anne Sundberg (who last year gave us Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work), we meet Myo Myint Cho (shown below) and learn the story of his military career (beginning as a teenager: Burma has one of the highest percentages of child soldiers of any of the world's countries), his mishap with shrapnel, and his post-military life -- which includes a lot of reading, protesting, imprisonment, torture and more.

Initially we see Myo Myint in close-up, and so for some time, we don't see the whole of him. When we do, as below, we see that he is not whole -- not by a long shot. Which makes his work for Burmese freedom all that much more difficult and commendatory. We hear about some of the horrors perpetrated on the populace by the Burmese military, and though Myo Myint was one of them, we learn nothing of what he himself might have done in this regard. Still, one gets the feeling that his man feels guilty, if only as a bystander.

Myo Myint meets Aung San Suu Kyi (shown at left) and is inspired by her. For a time it looks as though the military dictatorship --  in power since 1962 (Burma declared its independence from Great Britain in 1948) -- will conceed to free elections. But no: One after another, promises of something better are made but never kept. When demonstrations take place, Myo Myint is arrested, imprisoned and tortured. According to this ex-solider, being at the front line of a battle is nothing compared to being interrogated.

Along the way we learn some history of this deprived country, as well as what happened to Myo Myint's family. Brother and sister emigrated to America and now live in Fort Wayne, Indiana -- home of the largest Burmese community in the U.S. (who knew?). This fellow has come a long way from the teenager (below) who joined his country's military to get a step up in life.

Narrated by Colin Farrell, with music by Paul Brill, the documentary is interesting most of all because of our lack on first-hand information about Myanmar, particularly about its military. And if the film offers a welcome happy ending for Myo Myint, at least -- for Burma, there remains sadly no such thing.

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