They Call It Myanmar


“This country is unique . . . there’s no country like Burma,” a woman says minutes into They Call It Myanmar. This is true insofar as the isolated Southeast Asian nation’s culture and history are indeed unique, but the military junta under which it has lived in one form or another since 1962 has all too many corollaries around the world—and most of those countries have at least been able to keep their real names. Often verging on the apolitical, novelist-turned-filmmaker Robert H. Lieberman’s documentary on the “former rice bowl of Asia” is less a transparent call to arms featuring nifty graphics and more an affectionate portrait of the now-impoverished nation driven by raw footage of its citizens’ daily lives, most of which highlights beauty rather than sorrow. But the same thing that makes it a refreshing change of pace—the hopeful approach and lack of ulterior motives—is also what makes it occasionally feel directionless. The subtitle, Lifting the Curtain, clues us into the fact that merely capturing so many images of this dangerous-to-document country is meant to be a draw unto itself (consider how difficult it would be to make a similar movie about North Korea, for instance), which takes it far but not quite all the way. And yet it still works, so buoyed is the film by its open and honest take on a subject that would have been all too easy to turn into another marketable tragedy. Michael Nordine