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Critique: Beyond Rangoon (From New

Subject: Critique: Beyond Rangoon (From New Yorker)

Date: Thu, 24 Aug 1995 18:55:59 -0700
Subject: A Critique by New Yorker Magazine of >> Beyond  Rangoon<<<
To: tun@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx


        Please Post the following movie-critique to evey available 
bulletin board and newsgroup on the Net. Thank in Adavance, 

            Ye  Myint



                         <<<UNCOMMON  WOMEN>>>>>>

                "Beyond Rangoon"  and   "Dangerous  Minds."

                    	By   Terrence  Rafferty

     In the opening scenes of John Boorman's exhilarating "Beyond
Rangoon" we follow a group of weary-looking Western travellers, led by
an annoyingly chipper American guide, as they take in some of the
tourist-approved sights of Burma: gleaming pagodas, a huge reclining
Buddha, and the faded-splendor colonial architecture of the capital
city, Rangoon. Most of the wilted pilgrims manage to appear at least
mildly curious about the strangely beautiful objects they're listening
to, but the camera draws our attention to one among them who seems
incapable of even feigning interest in the tour--a young woman hiding
behind dark glasses, as if pretending to be blind. She has a
sleepwalker's demeanor, an opacity that suggests a numbed, shut-down
spirit. What we sense in this woman, Laura Bowman (Patricia Arquette),
is a profound, absolute indifference to life, and it doesn't surprise
us to learn-through dialogue, flashbacks, and her voice-over
narration---that she has recently suffered a devastating loss: her
husband and her son were killed by burglars. It's no wonder that this
trip, arranged by her, that the exotic places she's drifting through
seem to affect her no more than a set of vacation slides. She's a
doctor, but when she sees a boy from the tour group lying injured and
bleeding on the ground after a fall, she's useless; frozen in place,
she calls weakly for help and then turns away. 

     The story takes place in August, 1988, at a time when the
political condition of Burma was deteriorating from serious to
critical. A pro-democracy movement, headed by the charismatic Aung San
Suu Kyi and composed largely of university students, had begun to
organize demonstrations against the repressive military government
that had held power since 1962, and the regime, true to its
totalitarian nature, was cracking down brutally on the peaceful
dissidents. In "Beyond Rangoon," circumstances conspire to separate
Laura from the other tourists--that is, to set between her and them a
physical distance that matches the emotional distance that matches the
emotional distance that matches the emotional distance she already
feels--and cast her into the dense, dangerous wilderness of the real
Burma, where she falls into the company of political fugitives and
becomes one of the hunted herself. On the tour's last night in Burma,
Laura loses her passport and is forced to remain behind in Rangoon,
waiting for a new one, while the rest of the group moves on to
Bangkok. Wandering in the city, she meets a friendly middle-aged man
named U Aung Ko (played by an actor of that name), who offers his
services as an unofficial tour guide. In Aung Ko's decrepit Chevy,
they drive into the countryside,  bribing their way past checkpoints
on the outskirts of the city. Although Laura doesn't know it yet,
she's going through the looking glass into a land of terror and chaos,
where the rules of free societies don't apply. It's a scary plunge,
but in a sense  Laura is prepared for it. The murders of her husband
and son blasted away her expectations of happiness, order, and
security; struggling for survival in a violent world suits her better
than travelling through life as a glazed spectator seeing in every
smiling face and shiny surface a cruel reflection of what she has

     The screenplay, by Alex Lasker and Bill Rubenstein, is
constructed to emphasize the finality of the heroine's flight from one
kind of life to another. It's a one-way passage; after Laura says
goodbye to the other tourists at the Rangoon air-port, they're gone
from the movie for good--- forgotten, irrelevant. "Beyond Rangoon" is
an adventure story in which the intensity of the brilliantly executed
action sequences is heightened by our awareness of every event's
emotional significance: for the Burmese, in their quest for freedom;
and for Laura, in her agonized journey from detachment to engagement.
Once Laura has left Rangoon, Boorman keeps her running for her life,
and the action moves so swiftly that you nay not even register the
moment when her shades come off; at some point, you simply realize
that her eyes, through which you're seeing this ravaged, bloody
landscape, aren't concealed anymore, and that the vision they provide
is no longer entirely occupied by personal grief. What the movie wants
to reveal to the audience is the day-to-day experience of
oppression---the stifling, helpless sensation of being pinned to the
ground with a soldier's boot on your neck. And the filmmakers also
mean to show--or, rather, to make us feel--the process by which
apparently defeated people summon the strength to resist. The
heroine's deadened soul is an ideal medium for this demonstration. The
film subjects Laura to a relentless series of shocks, and they
gradually revive her, these jolts are what it takes to get her stopped
heart beating again. 

     "Beyond Rangoon" is only ninety-nine minutes long, and seems
shorter, it has a purposeful, arrow-like momentum that sets it apart
from ordinary, one-thing-after-another adventure movies. While the
picture has more than its share of thrilling, suspenseful incidents,
even the most elaborately staged scenes don't function merely as
spectacular set pieces. The action in "Beyond Rangoon" has a seamless
unity, which is largely the product of Boorman's masterly sense of
film rhythm but is also, perhaps, partly the result of his firm,
unshakable confidence in the importance of this story. There aren't
many filmmakers who can match Boorman's visual imagination. His best
previous pictures-- "Point Blank"(1967), "Deliverance"(1972),
"Excalibur"(1981)--are, in varying degrees, extravagant displays of
cinematic virtuosity; not one of them is merely style without
substance, but the viewer is always conscious of the director's
dazzling technique. In"Beyond Rangoon" Boorman subdues his
characteristic virtuosity' not one of them is merely style without
substance, but the viewer is always conscious of the director's
dazzling technique. In "Beyond Rangoon" Boorman subdues his
characteristic flamboyance almost to the point of effacing himself:
the storytelling is classically lucid, the images ar clean and
uncluttered, and the pace, though very fast, is steady. This is the
most elegant piece of filmmaking he has ever done. 

     And, surprisingly, it may also be the most passionate. The
economy of Boorman's style in " Beyond Rangoon" gives the movie a
sinewy, concentrated power. Instead of pummelling us into sub- mission
, the film breaks down our emotional defenses with deft, precise
combinations. Boorman avoids the most common, and most crippling, flaw
of political horror movies, which is the tendency to turn the
suffering of subjugated people into spectacle--to make soaring visual
arias out of mass misery. In "Beyond Rangoon" even the most gruesome
acts of violence are rendered tersely, in a stunned shorthand that
suggests how many more atrocities there are to be catalogued and how
futile it would be to dwell on any one of them. A scene in which the
government's troops open fire on student demonstrators and then shoot
the nurses who rush to the aid of the wounded is over almost before
you're aware of what's happening; the sequences leaves you dazed,
because it denies you both the luxury of contemplation and the
voyeuristic comfort of revelling in your own sense of outrage. An
execution at a train-station checkpoint in the countryside is quick
and startling, and ends with a brief long shot of the victim lying
face down in a clearing: an indelible image of the loneliness and
emptiness of death. In this picture, violence has no grandeur; it's
just a terrible, suffocatingly pervasive aspect of everyday life--the
polluted air that the Burmese breathe. 

     As the movie goes along, Laura grows out of her self-absorption.
There's no time for it: danger keeps forcing her to react, like a
threatened animal, and as her spirit warms up the regenerates her
human will to act--to help the people whom she has come to know in her
experience as a fugitive. The movies make her self-transcendence seem
credible, and even inevitable; the self that she's abandoning wasn't
much use to her anyway. It's a demanding role, and at first Arquette
doesn't seem quite up to the challenge. Her thin, girlish voice is
off-putting in the early scenes, and she doesn't have the technical
skills to compensate for its weakness. Her inexpressiveness is, in a
way, appropriate to the character, but she is not in control of her
effects: when she means to sound despondent, she sometimes just seems
petulant. In this movie, though, action matters more than speech; as
the story gathers steam, Arquette's performance becomes surer and more
moving. Physically, she is eloquent She looks sturdy and broad-hipped
in this picture (she gained some weight for the role), and when she is
running barefoot she conveys a close-to-the-ground energy that is
somehow very touching. Her body suggests strength that hasn't been
used in too long: when she springs into actions, her movement express
a fierce, desperate desire for release from everything that has
confined her--she looks ready to burst. And in closeup her face is
extraordinarily sensitive. Boorman photographs her as if she were a
silent-movie heroine; whatever else is happening on the screen, he
remembers to go back to that face, again and again, and each time he's
rewarded with an expression that deepens the meaning of the sense. 

     The presiding spirit of " Beyond Rangoon" is Aung San Suu Kyi
(Adelle Lutz), who appears in one of the picture's most memorable
sequences. Laura, on her last night as a tourist, awakens from a
terrible dream and hears noises in the street. She leaves her hotel
and make her way through an ebullient crowd of demonstrators, many of
whom hold placards bearing pictures of Aung San Suu Kyi. Soon the
demonstrators begin to look toward the end of the street, and they see
Aung San Suu Kyi herself--a pretty, fragile-looking woman, smiling and
waving as she approaches a line of soldiers with their rifles raised.
She stops briefly, looks at her enemies, and then steps calmly past
them. Laura's face breaks into an amazed grin, and we understand, from
this small drama of tension and relief, how Aung San Suu Kyi inspires
her followers: she quickens their hopes with an unfathomable kind of
serenity. In her writings the real Aung San Suu Kyi (who was under
house arrest in 1989 and was released few weeks ago) has defined the
goal of the democracy movement as "freedom from fear", and has
described courage as "grace which is renewed repeatedly in the face of
harsh, unremitting pressure.." From the next day on, until Laura
crosses a final border in the movie's stirring climax, she seems to be
holding in her mind the image of a moving past a barrier. And "Beyond
Rangoon" itself embodies Aung San Suu Kyi's philosophy of action. It's
a mysteriously graceful adventure movie: a fearless masterpiece.