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Beyond Rangoon Featured

A Nobel Prize-winner faces fascist bayonets A Nobel Prize-winner faces fascist bayonets

Every once in a while a Hollywood movie manages to shine through the fog of formulas, through the mist of cinematic conventions. Such a film is Beyond Rangoon, a Columbia Pictures release of a Castle Rock production (1995), that crosses the often not so fine line between cinema as art and movies as a commercial commodity.

Patricia Arquette plays Laura, a recently widowed American doctor, who is touring Asia to expunge the tragic loss of her family. Spalding Gray plays the erudite tour guide, who tries to explain the mysteries of Buddhism, while allowing that Burma (also known as Myanmar) is a military dictatorship and definitely not a place to lose your American passport. Laura gets left behind, and through her eyes we witness what fascism has done to a peaceful country of very polite people.

Director John Boorman (Deliverance) shot Beyond Rangoon in Malaysia for obvious reasons, and he handles the story with sensitivity and skill. Laura meets a professor named U Aung Ko, who is forced to eke out a living escorting tourists, since losing his teaching post for helping a dissident student. Their lives are masterfully intertwined with each other, and with the pro-democracy movement and its bloody suppression in Burma in 1988.

Aung San Suu Kyi, the Nobel Peace prize winner who might be released soon after years of Burmese house arrest (only to be rearrested again?), plays a prominent role in the film. She is the tangible and spiritual leader of the revolt, not afraid to walk through a phalanx of soldiers with their guns pointed at her in order to speak to her people and give them some of her courage. A footnote explains that she was the clear winner in democratic elections, rejected by the ruling junta.

Much of Beyond Rangoon is a chase in the tradition of the finest thrillers, but it saddens the heart to see so much cruelty. The ironic twist is that Laura, who is deadened emotionally by her personal pain, becomes alive when she experiences first-hand the pain suffered by an entire people, who are able--perhaps because of their Buddhist beliefs--to transcend it somewhat better than most Westerners would.

Once the tears are shed, Beyond Rangoon still continues to shine as it sheds more light on the tragic situation in Burma, where large numbers have been killed, millions suffer, and 700,000 refugees have fled in terror. The recent "elections" were boycotted by the two main opposition parties, since many of their leaders are in detention and the generals have stacked the decks to make sure of their own victory.

Available online (you can actually see it on YouTube in its entirety, if you don't mind it being cut into over a dozen segments), or at select video stores that still cater to cinema aficionados in most major cities.

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Unfortunately, fascism is alive and well in places like Burma, where peacefully demonstrating students and monks can be butchered at the whim of generals.
Last modified on Monday, 15 November 2010 20:40

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