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[Poor folk] Burmese strip tease

[Poor folk] Burmese strip tease

Who has never gotten alarmed in front of the miserable lives, slowly stripped bare without any decency in Strip tease, the French Belgian documentary series? Pure society facts and devoid of artifices, existences and drifted destinies, poor people, the poor folk, as Burmese director Midi Z leads it astray here, into the shortcomings of his second feature film Poor folk.

Realistic moviemaker, in 2009 in Taipei, Midi Z is awarded the Golden Horse Film Academy as one of the most promising directors. Return to Burma, his first feature film is selected for the Rotterdam’s Tiger Award Competition in 2012.
Firmly impregnated by the local culture and the authentic ways of life, so absolute or so oppressed they may be, Midi Z dismantles the subjects with such documentary realism that it becomes destabilizing to not know anymore to which type of images we are facing.

Drug, human trafficking, prostitution, murder, perseverance, despair and smiles, at least one hour will be necessary to be convinced that it is not a documentary, but a committed film trial, as soon as a protagonist will be murdered in cold blood, with decency again, because only a fade to black will indicate it to us. No detail for the act by itself, everything is suggested in the realism of Poor folk, but everything is true. Real intimacy unveiled, but fictive by the notion of mise-en-scène, the actors are not: they play the difficult everyday lives of several Burmese families, forced to sell the people they love to the Thai mafia.

Three millions Burmese live illegally in Thailand. Tens of thousands migrants cross the border each year to go to Dagudi, the common crossing town in Northern Thailand, breeding ground of deserters, dealers and smugglers. A-Hong and his sister bear witness it in Poor folk.

After crossing the border across large fields of wheat, single sequence shots and hand-held camera to support it, the young woman falls in dealers’ hands. Her life, now implied to prostitution, forces A-Hong to become an outstanding swindler in the streets of Bangkok. Taking advantage of Chinese tourists, selling raw components of amphetamines to underground organisations or other armed gangsters. Everything is justifiable to earn the necessary money in order to pay off his sister’s freedom.

Poor folk talks about experience, the chaptering and the editing of the work witness it. It is black, gloomy all the way to darkness and neurosis. Ultra-cuts, fixed shots of sometimes unbearable length turn into paintings, almost theatrical and finally typical of Asian cinema. The grin is noticeable as some frescos contain some sort of a Kitano absurdity. We could even be mistaken on the director if we had begun to watch the film after it had already started.

The scene where A-Hong smokes in a very colourful market going along with what seems to be his minion stifling Baths and Yuans is not without reminding us of several instants of Kikujiro (Takeshi Kitano, 1999) where Kikujiro torments his “little dummy”, with beloved sarcasm lost in a gloomily narrated Japan.

The story is morose, the mise-en-scène is intelligently absurd, the image is beautiful despite one of the most simplistic framing techniques, like the lighting, almost dogmatic. The subtle texture, hot, glazing at the same time and the DCP format indicate a digital shooting. We will guess it furthermore by observing some thin floating waves on the image in the interior shots, under the basic lighting of the locations, some digital captors being allergic to this type of sodium light.

A bit of dogma certainly, which contrasts however with the surprising shot of a crashed plane in the middle of nowhere, still smoking of special effects. Has aesthetics taken over realism? This sequence, which was outrageously expensive and almost imperilled the budget, was nevertheless essential for Midi Z.

Essential, because the shot of a rare beauty comforts us in the misery of the destinies which we see on screen. Poor folk is first and foremost a denunciation, a witness statement, a work of reminiscence, a revelation which nonetheless and sadly, seem to be understandable with difficulty for a novice audience, as the story is much impregnated with locality, of unfathomed cultural details and empirical dialogues.

We will omit with great care the English subtitles simplifying narration greatly. Without a doubt, the Western audience is the eternal prisoner of their economy of cinema, when Asian production, instructive, essayist, so sincere that it denudes itself, still remains too unknown.

Maël Dubourg
Gianni Castillo – Translation

Fiche Technique
Film & Réalisateur:  Poor Folk de Midi Z
Pays : Birmanie Thaïlande
Durée : 105′
Année : 2012
Première Diffusion : Jeudi 21 Novembre à 10h au Katorza