Burma Soldier

Burma Soldier


Reviewed by: Val Kermode

“I always wanted to be a soldier” says Myo Myint, speaking from a refugee camp on the Burma/Thai border. Myo Myint was born and has lived all his life under the oppressive military regime of Burma. He tells how as a child he used to watch the soldiers coming home from the front, being garlanded and cheered by the people, and at 17 he joined the army. He was trained as an engineer and sent out with a small team to find and destroy mines. He was the one who carried the map.

There are some 30 different ethnic groups in Burma, all considered by the Burmese to be inferior, and Myo Myint soon realised that the main task of the army was to put down insurgents. In other words, he was fighting his fellow countrymen.

The Burmese army has the highest number of child soldiers in the world. About 25% are under 16, some as young as 11. When he witnessed conditions in the army and saw its treatment of civilians, Myo Myint realised he no longer wanted to be a part of it.

Talking directly to camera, Myo Myint is calm and articulate. Except for the occasional blink, he maintains his composure as he talks of horrors and of his own fear. He only begins to cry when he remembers his mother visiting him in hospital after a mortar had taken off his leg, his arm and a hand.

The makers of this film wisely decided to let this brave and charismatic man tell his own story. There were many others with stories of their own, but their choice of this one man to symbolise the oppression of a whole nation makes this a strong and impressive film.

There is also some narration by Colin Farrell, and archive material is used to give the historical context. Of necessity some of the filming, of the army, of prisons, had to be done using a long lens. The resulting shaky and soft focus images have a fragile beauty which provides a stark contrast to what we are hearing as Myo Myint talks of torture and gang rape.

As his life as a soldier came to an end, this man's greatest struggle was only just beginning. He was determined to educate himself in order to work for peace. He built up a library of forbidden books, he joined student protests, persuaded others to leave the army and was granted a meeting with Aung San Suu Kyi Eventually, after addressing crowds of thousands, he was arrested, imprisoned and tortured. He spent a total of 15 years in different prisons, at one time spending four months in total darkness. When he was released, at the age of 41, the regime was still in control. He suffered further harassment and was forced to flee to the Thai border. The final part of the film follows him to the U.S. To be reunited with his brother. Myo Myint's struggle continues, as he joins protests in America. He now accepts that the regime may not fall in his lifetime.

The film includes some striking black and white photographs by Nic Dunlop. The first set is of beautiful dignified portraits taken from different ethnic groups in Burma; the second shows the anguished faces of those who have suffered. For Stern and Sundberg these images were the inspiration and the starting point for the making of this film, and they have a haunting presence.

As the country holds its first election in 20 years, this film provides a tribute not just to Myo Myint but to the many who struggle and give their lives for peace.

Reviewed on: 09 Nov 2010
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The story of former Burmese soldier Myo Mint who, after becoming disabled in action, educated himself with banned books and became a campaigner against the civil war.
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Director: Nic Dunlop, Annie Sundberg, Ricki Stern

Starring: Myo Mint

Year: 2010

Runtime: 70 minutes

Country: Ireland, Burma, Thailand, US


Doc/Fest 2010

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