Showing posts with label movie. Show all posts
Showing posts with label movie. Show all posts

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Documentary Review: They Call It Myanmar

I'd heard of Myanmar before. I knew it used to be called (or is still currently called--that's still fuzzy) Burma. I knew that the US, along with several other members of the UN didn't recognize the current government (which actually turned out to be incorrect) and I knew that it was in South Asia. That was about it, so watching this documentary was an excellent learning experience for me.

Image result for they call it myanmarThis documentary was put together by a Cornell Physics professor, who also, in his spare time, writes novels, makes films, and assists the US Government in humanitarian work overseas. He was working for an NGO in Myanmar when he made the film. When making this documentary he took advantage of his connections with the locals to interview them about their opinions about the direction of Burmese politics, and to get the opinion of people living in one of the most isolated countries in the world.

So Myanmar, like so much of Southern Asia, was absorbed into a colonial empire, in their case the British Empire. Around 1940 the Burmese government reached out to the Japanese for help liberating them from the English. The Japanese obliged, but they also made things a whole hell of a lot worse, so the Burmese had to call on the English again for help. With the help of the allied powers, the Burmese were able to kick the Japanese out of Burma, and establish their own independent government. All was going well until 1962 when the military took over the running of the government.

After taking power, the Burmese military quickly cut all ties with the outside world. They isolated themselves as a group, making it difficult for normal people to have their voice heard in government. Due to their isolation and some poor economic decisions, Myanmar is now one of the poorest countries in Asia.

Image result for myanmar mapThis film explores the day-to-day life of the Burmese, and what they have to do to survive. Blankets and bedding are pawned in the morning to pay for bus fare, children rarely go to school past the first or second grade, and most laborers make less than $1 USD a day.

But in addition to the extreme poverty, this documentary also explores the strong spiritual life of Myanmar. Myanmar is, essentially, a Buddhist state, and the Burmese are a very religious people. According to the film, many Burmese attribute their poverty to mistakes made in past lives, and try to live better lives by weekly worship.

This is a very interesting documentary, and a good introduction to modern Myanmar. I have to admit, I didn't 100% understand everything that was shown, simply because I didn't know much of the history of post WWII South Asia. There was also a lot of political information in the film, that I didn't summarize here, simply because I wasn't quite sure how to. Which is why if you have a couple hours, and are interested, I would highly recommend watching it.

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Sunday, June 11, 2017

The Girl King

"The Girl King" is a 2015 drama focused around the infamous Queen Kristina of Sweden, and her love affair with the countess Ebba Sparre.

Image result for the girl kingFirst, it must be said, I LOVED this movie. Not only is this a film about a badass lady, but it's about a badass sapphic lady, one of my favorite types of badass ladies.

Now, in case you're confused about the term 'sapphic', let me explain. 'Sapphic' is a broad term used to describe women (including trans women) who love women (also known as wlw), be they lesbians, bisexuals, pansexuals, or any other sort of gay. In case you're wondering about the etymology, 'Sapphic' gets its root from Sappho, the famously gay ancient greek poet, whose island home of Lesbos also sired the word lesbian.

"The Girl King" opens on a dramatic scene. Kristina's arguably insane mother, Dowager Queen Maria Eleonora is weeping over the corpse of her deceased husband, King Gustav II. She imperiously orders her daughter to kiss her father good night. That's when Kristina's uncle, Carl, and the Chancellor Axel Oxenstierna burst into the room, and rescue Kristina from the clutches of her mother. The movie then skims over Kristina's childhood, showing brief scenes of her extensive education and grooming to become Queen of Sweden. There is particular focus on Kristina's indifference to Protestantism (the ideal her father died fighting for) and her admiration for the philosopher Rene Descartes.

The movie really gets going when Kristina is crowned queen on her eighteenth birthday. In the span of a single day she is crowned, announces her intentions to turn Sweden into an academic paradise, meets the love of her life, and turns down a marriage proposal. It's a busy day for the young queen, but that doesn't stop her from running around with a sword, and leaving quite the impression on the beautiful Ebba Sparre.

Kristina (right) and Ebba.
From there the movie details Kristina's struggles against the stubborn conservatism of Sweden in the age, and her attempts to educate the people, and broker peace between the warring Protestant and Catholic nations. Along the way her hero, Rene Descartes, arrives in Sweden, and along with the French ambassador and some unscrupulous churchmen, convince Kristina of the virtues of Catholicism. That's pretty worrisome to Kristina's nobles, but more worrying is her refusal to marry, and her suspicious closeness with Ebba.

And, indeed, they had cause to worry. Kristina and Ebba were in love, sharing a bed, kisses, and other more intimate moments. In a move spurred by politics and jealousy Axel's son arranges to have Ebba abducted and forcibly married. Kristina is less than pleased.

By this point Kristina has been ruling for ten years, and she's sick of it. Her love is gone, her friend Descartes dies, and Sweden resists her attempts to bring the Enlightenment north at every turn. Additionally, she's decided to convert to Catholicism, and leave Lutheranism behind. All of these things combine to make her realize that she can no longer rule Sweden. So she plans for her abdication. She adopts her cousin Carl Gustav, then abdicates in his favor. She leaves Sweden for a better life.

Now, as for historical accuracy, this movie does pretty well. Kristina did have a love affair with Ebba Sparre*, and she certainly struggled against the ignorance of Sweden in that era. She did adopt her cousin, and abdicate in his favor.

However, there are a few inaccuracies. One of the recurring themes of the movie is the philosophy of Descartes, and his friendship with the queen. In reality, Kristina couldn't stand Descartes, and they were, by no means, friends. Additionally, Kristina became queen at sixteen, not eighteen.

Overall, this was a fantastic movie about a fascinating woman. I highly recommend watching this, and this is, by no means, the last time I write about Queen Kristina.


*Anyone who wants to insist Kristina and Ebba were just 'gals being pals' can meet me in the Target parking lot at midnight, and we'll fight it out. I try to limit my personal biases, but I have no patience for queer erasure in history, so bring a knife.

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