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'Burma: Anatomy of Terror'

Friday, March 28, 2003

By Barry Parris, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

One could not invent a worse social, political, humanitarian disaster than Burma -- except for Cambodia, its Southeast Asian paradigm.

Anatomy of Terror'


Unrated but R in nature for gruesome images


Renamed Myanmar by the brutal socialist military regime that controls it, the country has a population of 47 million, declining daily as a result of genocidal ethnic "cleansings" perpetrated by the junta in Rangoon. A land of gentle Buddhists saw 30,000 slaughtered during one 1988 uprising alone.

Myanmar's bloodthirsty, megalomaniacal soldier-rulers permit no freedom of speech, press or assembly, of course. If we know anything at all of the ongoing tragedy there, it is thanks to Nobel Peace Prize winner Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, an incredibly brave Burmese freedom fighter who has spent most of her past 15 years under house arrest.

Her participation lights up "Burma: Anatomy of Terror," a profoundly grim documentary. We watch as people are driven from their villages and herded into refugee camps, which are then burned to the ground. Chain-smoking 12-year-olds are inducted -- actually, abducted -- into army units. Their parents are organized into forced-labor gangs to build an oil pipeline (owned by America's Unical) for their oppressors.

The government spends 60 percent of Burma's pathetic GNP on arms. Its approach to all who resist is a simple four-stage one: first, to cut off communication, then food, then medicine -- and finally heads.

Director Isabel Hegner tries nobly, but sadly fails, to make sense out of this Orwellian nightmare. There are too many problematic talking heads and heavy-handed slow-motion effects and not enough simple chronological or geopolitical explanations.

Susan Sarandon narrates softly, sadly, hopelessly.

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