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Cinema Signal: Not quite a green light but has elements of strong appeal for a limited audience.
. "They Call It Myanmar" Lifting the Curtain

Anyone who reads the newspaper is likely to know about the rank injustices visited upon a gentle and pretty Burmese lady named Aung San Suu Kyi who, at the hands of the military henchmen who have been ruling her country ever since the assassination of her father, General Aung San, suffered house arrest for fifteen years. The general, a founder of the communist part of Burma, convinced the British to give his country its independence. But his rule was not to be. He was assassinated six months before independence was granted.

Grabbing power while knowing little about governing beyond brute force, and after renaming the country Myanmar, the military, wishing for international acceptance and trade, took a venture in 1990 to hold an election for president and a Parliament. But they could hardly bear the outcome when Suu Kyi and her party won in an 81% landslide. What to do?

Well... they couldn't shoot her. So, they cancelled the election and its forbidden fruits and locked her up in her own home for two decades, during which she won a Nobel Peace Prize that made her perhaps the most famous and admirable political prisoner anywhere.

Finally, coming slowly to the realization (or, whatever it was) that it would be beneficial to use Suu Kyi's fame and notoriety, they finally freed her and, from all appearances, with no significant limitations. She's been free to travel and pick up a raft of awards and recognitions of her calm and dignified sacrifice. Her itinerary has included a journey to Norway to pick up her Nobel winnings and, very recently, to the U.S. for the Congressional Gold Medal.

Enter Robert Lieberman, a physics professor at Cornell University who gets a grant from the State Department and various NGO's to go to the second most reclusive country on the globe (behind North Korea) to, ostensibly, train people in technical matters -- and he brings along a video camera. He's there for two years, compiling interviews both in private and on the streets of the capital city and roads in the countryside. What he finds is a populace that's surprisingly accepting and adaptive.

Their belief in Karma is absolute and causes them to seek to better themselves with patience and tolerance while forsaking materialism and ambition. Among the devotional practices that Lieberman documents is their application of gold leaf to Buddha statues, to a teetering holy rock, and other symbols of their faith.

The Burmese adaptation to being under the thumb of an ungenerous bunch of uniformed thugs for so long, for the sake of peace, sinks them into a miasma of willing subjection. Solace and modest expression, as well as fear of violent consequence for complaint or activism, is their abiding reality. Rebellion doesn't appear to be in the collective gene pool.

You have to give Lieberman credit for his courage in penetrating the society down to its most impoverished and devout while flirting with dire consequences should his footage and theme come to the attention of the unfriendly authorities. Two years of work could have gone down a Myanmar drain and who knows with what personal pain for him?

The opening of his film seems to be an attempt to formulate an introductory narrative around disorganized scenes and doesn't coalesce into a unified whole. But, later, the film becomes more orderly and editorially organized into thematic chapters on Buddhism, the people, Burmese occupations in history, the peculiarities of the military non-leaders and, of course, Aung San Suu Kyi whose clarity, grace and moderation are now providing hope for her people while exerting a positive effect by example to peace-loving nations around the globe.

The most unique thing about Burma/Myanmar among dictatorship nations is that those at the top seem to want acceptance by the international community and to share the fruits of democracy and commerce. After years of simply hanging on to their power and privileges, they've taken a rare history-making intitiative toward those goals.

Anyone who is interested in the line of development this country will take, and in the path that has finally been opened to its most famous citizen, will find this film of considerable value. Its revelations are as politically compelling as the beauty of its landscapes, which Lieberman captures as components of the singular human story playing out in the former British colony of Burma/Myanmar.

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                                      ~~  Jules Brenner  

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The holy rock, with layers of gold leaf applied by Myanmar worshipers.

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