Light Of The World
This week, World On Film travels to Burma for a short film that portrays a side of the country far from the machinations of its rulers.
(2009) Written, Produced & Directed by Sāsana
“I understood what the truth was, and that it was only the dreams of the others.”
The discovery of Pyu Pyu was a pleasant surprise, though not necessarily for reasons one might expect. It is in no way a cinematic masterpiece, rather, a labour of love by an enthusiastic amateur who would be the first to put aside any comparisons drawn between himself and Richard Attenborough. Indeed Sāsana is a French Buddhist monk living in the Burmese countryside and Pyu Pyu is his first work. In the film, a group of pre-pubescent boys find themselves captivated by the young girl of the title, and contrive ways to attract her attention, as well as trying to understand the cause of her great beauty. In many ways however, the plot is essentially a thin contrivance through which Sāsana celebrates the lives of a people he has clearly fallen in love with, and given their very visible willing participation in his work, the reverse seems true also. On another level however, Pyu Pyu is also a journey toward understanding caused by the conundrum of perception – the Buddhist film-maker keen to impart the philosophy through which he and his adopted society adhere to. Thus the forgiving audience is best served when viewing the end result as a paean to the villagers and the prevailing beliefs that permeate their lives.
This celebration is produced with a single camera and edited together with Final Cut Express, the former providing a crisp picture, bolstered by some nice, steady camera work, the later unfortunately resulting in some rather amateurish captioning. The musical score is probably the weakest aspect of the post-production, with found pieces – though fine in and of themselves – not always matching the scenes they are meant to elevate, noticeably repeated several times and often overriding the sound.
“Pyu Pyu is a journey toward understanding caused by the conundrum of perception.”
There are no ‘actors’ in the proper sense of the word, but rather enthusiastic villagers whose approximations of a performance at least show how much they enjoyed themselves. The translated dialogue, which we are warned is only an approximation of the improvisations therein performed, lacks authenticity – though not bad for someone whose principal languages are after all French and Burmese. In addition, there are many short sequences that seem to function more as a snapshot of local village life until one pays attention to the underlying messages therein imparted.
When seen as a Buddhist parable, the many seemingly disparate elements of the film can be seen to come together. In the Theravada sect of Buddhism practiced here, one must achieve understanding only through a process of self-rationalisation. The girl of desire is then seen as a catalyst for that process to awaken in the minds of the young aspirants of the story who are then pushed by their own curiosity toward the path of understanding. Viewed independently of this philosophy, Pyu Pyu may seem a little directionless, and perhaps shows how fundamental and self-evident are its teachings to those who practice it.
Nonetheless, an alternative reading is that the film’s celebratory nature, showing as it does a people and culture far away from the Burma one tends to see on the news. That the viewer could easily conclude that their faraway rulers are a very direct cause of their poverty is probably inescapable, though Sāsana’s message is one of joy rather than politics.
With that in mind, you can see the film for yourself right here, uploaded to Vimeo by the director himself for all to enjoy:
Brunei is not known for its film industry. This however has not stopped some of its citizens from having their own stab at the craft, albeit in short form:
The final installment of the ‘B’ series as we travel to the African state of Burundi, where a group of international film-makers are giving local aspiring youths the chance to express their cinematic talents in a nation not known for its movie industry. Burundi’s first five films take centre-stage next when World On Film returns.