Saturday, November 20, 2010

Home is Where the Heartbreak Is

Each year on November 11th we take a moment to reflect on the people who took part in both World Wars, and how their sacrifices made our current freedom possible. We also use that day to remember the atrocities that mankind has inflicted upon each other and strive to ensure it never happens again. The shocking thing is these atrocities are still happening on a daily basis in places that most of the world turns a blind eye to.

Armed with nothing more than a camera, and a desire to bring the plights of the Burmese people to the global conscious, director Desiree Lim went to Malaysia to document what was going on with the refugee situation over there. What she uncovers in her documentary, Home, is a horrific account of violence and corruption that has infested every single aspect of Malaysian society.

Home examines how Burmese refugees flee the violent rule of the military junta for the safer lands of Malaysia and Thailand. Yet once they have reached these places, the Burmese refugees are subject to a whole other level of corruption and violence that they could have never imagined. Immigration agencies such as RELA routinely blackmail the refugees with threats of deportation. They are also unable to obtain the proper paperwork needed to start a new life so many must work illegally. This not only subjects them to police brutality, but physical, mental and sexual abuse as well. Many of the women are either raped by their employers or are sold to human traffickers, while the men are forced to work on fishing boats where their survival rate is slim at best.

What is really disturbing about all of this is how much Malaysia relies on the illegal immigrants for their infrastructure. There are now over three million Burmese refugees working in Malaysia. They keep all the various businesses, especially the food industry, running. Even the Burmese who have landed legally are not exempt from the corruption. The military junta have deals with Malaysia and Thailand which enforces that all Burmese workers in those lands have to pay a 10% tax off their paychecks. The money collected from this tax would go straight back to military junta. This essentially ensures the revolving door of corruption goes on as those who refuse the tax, or are working illegally and cannot pay the blackmail fees, are sent back to Burma.

The film is broken up into two parts, though only one is truly successful. The first half of the film is a drama in which Desiree Lim enlists one of the refugees, Roi Roi, to help reenact some of the stories that came out of Lim’s conversations with the refugees. This section nearly kills the film in my opinion, as the untrained actors do not convey the range needed for this type of tale. To be honest, I was getting ready to write the film off by time the credits rolled on the first segment.

Luckily I stuck with the film because the second half, the documentary section, is what truly makes this film work. All the emotion that was missing from the first segment is on display here. It is both mesmerizing and heartbreaking to hear the refugees, some of which whom cannot show their face on camera, recount the horrors that they have lived through up to this point. Whether it is the pastor living in the jungle, the mother taking care of both bedridden husband and their four kids, the woman degraded and abuse by female soldiers, or the human rights advocate discussing the obstacles she faces, they all have the same devastating impact.

Home does not provide any answers, which is not surprising considering that this is an issue that is much more complex than you could even imagine. Yet Home is a film that more people really need to see and discuss. The world cannot continue to turn a blind eye on this issue.

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