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"They Call It Myanmar": Offers a Glimpse into an Isolated Country 

Wednesday, Apr 4 2012

Much less the rabble-rouser than 2009's Burma VJ, Robert H. Lieberman's two years of firsthand reportage from that country was filmed prior to recent developments that freed opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi from house arrest. (She won a seat in Parliament earlier this week.) Suu Kyi is interviewed here, but her remarks — like the rest of the doc—fall well behind the news cycle. Lieberman, who teaches physics at Cornell, also waits far too long to address Burma's history in They Call It Myanmar, asks the same benign questions over and over again ("Have you been to school?") and resorts to the same shots of adorable kids slaving away at manual labor. Still, because he filmed most of his footage covertly, Lieberman does provide a valuable, commendable glimpse into what he calls "the second most isolated country on the planet." Ruled by the military since 1962, the country and culture that Lieberman finds have been preserved and paradoxically protected from the West— unlike gaudy neighbors Thailand and Vietnam. There are elements of travelogue to the shots of pristine rice paddies, temples, and ox carts, but Lieberman is quick to interrogate any friendly face on the street. Just to ask questions is a subversive act in a country where propaganda slogans read "Crush all internal and external destructive elements as the common enemy." A title card explains at the outset that the film won't identify any interviewees, with the camera sometimes directed at their feet. Of her homeland, one unidentified woman says, "There is something brewing beneath that calm, serene facade."

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Brian Miller


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