are the migrants the global hand-wringers prefer to ignore. They are peaceful,
family-oriented, and have no desire to impose their faith on others. Their
religion? Theravada Buddhism, why do you ask? Caught in the crossfire of civil
unrest approaching full-scale civil war, at least ten thousand ethnic Ta’ang
Burmese have fled into southwest China, but the UN has yet to scold the People’s
Republic for not offering them a proper welcome. Instead, it falls once again
on auteurist documentarian Wang Bing to prick the world’s conscience as best he
can with Ta’ang (clip here), which screened
during this year’s Toronto International Film Festival.
a mere two hours and twenty-eight minutes, Ta’ang
is downright svelte by Wang’s standards. Although he maintains his
characteristically severe observational aesthetic, Ta’ang is also one of his most accessible films. At its core, it is
about families struggling to stay together—something most everyone should be
able to identify with on some level. Wang shot extensively at the Maidihe and
Chachang refugee camps, but he spends even more time literally on the road with
the displaced Ta’ang Burmese (they don’t call it Myanmar). Aside from one nasty
busybody bullying an old woman in the opening scene, there are no officials of any
kind to be found in the film. Nor are any soldiers seen, but the sounds of war
are often audible in the background.
least from what we gather through Wang’s lens, the Ta’ang are not waiting
around for handouts from anyone. They really just want to get on with their
lives and seem inclined to try anywhere. With their western t-shirts, they are
clearly functionally assimilated with the modern, globalized world. Indeed, it
is the cell phone, an obvious product of the modern age that keeps them
connected with far-flung family members.
is heart-breaking to see the Ta’ang children forced to grow up and accept adult
responsibilities as their families head higher into the mountains or deeper
into China in search of a more stable existence. Some refugees get all the
breaks. It is no secret why. Buddhism just doesn’t have the same politically correct
protections as faiths more inclined towards umbrage-taking.
has Wang’s stamp all over it. There is the same patient pacing that allows
moments to unfold in their own uncompressed time. Arguably, his sense of visual
composition is even keener and sharper than ever, judging from his arresting
fireside sequences that have the chiaroscuro glow of old masters. Two and half
hours still represents a very real time commitment, but Ta’ang directly engages viewers on an emotional level, much like Three Sisters (as opposed to the
ambitious but punishing ‘Til Madness Do Us Part). Highly recommended for anyone who really cares about refugee
issues, Ta’ang is sure to have a long
festival life following its screenings at this year’s TIFF.
Labels: Burma, Chinese Cinema, Documentary, TIFF '16, Wang Bing