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France’s Asian Film Festival breaks new ground with Myanmar feature

media Still from "The monk" DR/

The first film screened in competition at Fica, the International Festival of Asian Cinema in Vesoul in eastern France, was a rare bird: a fiction film from Myanmar, formerly known as Burma. The Monk is the first feature film directed by The Maw Naing.

A poet and plastic artist with short films and documentaries already to his name, The Maw Naing used non-actors, sparing dialogue, and a sparse budget.

The Maw Naing recounts how he wrote the screenplay with a close friend, based on the friend’s experiences in the countryside in the 1980s. The friend had been sent there for so-called rehabilitation, for having taken part in a student revolt against the government.

Audio report 12/02/2015 - by Rosslyn Hyams Listen

In dimly-lit red interiors and grey and green exteriors, punctuated by philosophical teachings, The Monk tells the story of a dilapidated Buddhist monastery, where the ageing, strict abbot, scares away all but one of the novices, and the villagers have no money to keep it going.

The remaining novice is torn between teenage curiosity, opportunities in the city and the only home he has ever known.

Non-professional actors add to the intermittently realistic feel of the film, and The Maw Naing’s documentary experience shows through, sometimes too much.

Dossier: Cannes Film Festival 2014

However, he says that the realism and the slow pace are essential to the type of films he likes to make.

“I use a slow pace and static shots, in classical Asian-style. The Buddhists’ path to Nirvana is a journey in the mind. I would like the audience to share it in this film.”

He says in Myanmar it’s tough to make social-issue films, especially any which could be construed as criticism of the way the country is being run. Another factor he says is that “people are asking for comedy, but I hope my success will help change the filmscape in the country through the younger filmmakers”.

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