The military dictatorship and the rigorous application of Buddhist principles to the civic life have almost frozen the society and its habits. With the end of the dictatorship, the opening of Myanmar to the rest of the world has meant the (re-)“discovery” of Myanmar, but also a period of incredibly fast modernization – thus creating another “case” Myanmar.
One of the first ever film productions to come out of Myanmar, The Monk (2014, The Maw Naing), stresses the theme of societal transformation, focusing on the life of a young Buddhist monk, caught between tradition and modernization. Two films that premiered at Visions du réel in Nyon last year directly approach this theme: Waves of Transition – Ma Yan Chan by Jonas Scheu and Burma Storybook by Petr Lom. Through these works it is possible to realize the incredible speed of change with its violent consequences, and even the propensity to resist the transformation. Our position as viewers oscillates between sympathy for the emancipation from almost medieval habits and a romantic desire to preserve an exceptional simplicity of life.
The films are also an opportunity to discover how complex the Myanmar society is, with its 135 ethnic groups and 6 language families. In Lom’s documentary particularly, the central role of poems in society reveals the political function of the word, as an element of resistance of the various minorities against the Burmese (and Buddhist) hegemony. Plurality, even if it is not an ideal in Myanmar but a matter of fact, is thus “used” by the State as a source of conflict. The military power can subsequently exert its authority and have influence again over the provinces that are rich in profitable resources, such as jade or oil.
This situation is at the root of the humanitarian catastrophes in several parts of the country, of which the oppression of the Rohingya people is the most known. Forced emigration becomes a new reality, on which three recent films have focused, more or less indirectly. A direct and realist way is Wang Bing’s one in his Ta’ang (2016), whereas Edmund Yeo’s We, the Dead - Aqerat (2017) (interview with Edmund Yeo in Logbook) and Akio Fujimoto’s Passage of Life (2017) (interview with Akio Fujimoto in Logbook) assume the drama of the refugees both as documentary reality and a symbolic tool to reflect, more universally, on the conditions of minorities. From the multi-layered society of Myanmar, the cinematic reflection in these last two films opens up to a multi-layered vision of Myanmar, from the point of view of China, Thailand, and Japan. Through the intersection of a subjective dimension in the films, it is a chance to interrogate one’s own identity, so pushing the viewer to do the same. Myanmar becomes in this way a “case” for ourselves.