© Central Film Verleih GmbH

This Prison Where I Live
U.K./Germany 2010

Opening 21 Oct 2010

Directed by: Rex Bloomstein
Writing credits: Rex Bloomstein

A British director and a German comedian unite to save a Burmese stand-up comedian from oblivion. Director Rex Bloomstein became interested in Zarganar (real name Maung Thura) and in 2007 he was able to interview him for two days in his home in Rangun, in a theater, and on the streets, even though (or maybe because) Zarganar had already served five years in prison for telling political jokes. Before Bloomstein could finish the film, Zarganar was sentenced to a second term, this time for 59 years for speaking out against the repressive regime. Bloomstein was able to interest the popular German comedian Michael Mittermeier in his project. Together they flew to Burma. This time there was no chance to talk to Zarganar personally; even driving close to his prison or contacting his friends was dangerous. Bloomstein portrays the 50-year-old Burmese comedian in the hopes that the world will not forget him. “It’s a shame that nobody knows that there are comedians in Burma.” Mittermeier provides a link in that he is also a comedian who, by contrast, is free to say what he wishes.

The best part of the film is the original footage of Zarganar talking about his life. He trained to be a dentist but realized that stand-up comedy was his calling. He says, “One person opens his mouth for the dentist, but everyone opens his mouth for a comedian.” He named himself Zarganar, which means tweezers. He is a talented musician and plays native Burmese instruments and dances. Often he performed with a band-aid on his lips, symbolic of the government’s attempts to silence him. He is an extrovert who likes people. He said, “I can persuade my friends but not my enemy.”

By the time this documentary came out, his sentence had been “reduced” to 35 years. One can argue whether Mittermaier is necessary to the film, but if it means that more people will watch it due to his popularity, or if he personally helped finance it, then more power to him. We can listen to Mittermaier ramble on about the project if it means that Zarganar will not be forgotten. Mittermaier was interviewed on German television and said that eight cinemas in Germany had agreed to show the film. (Becky Tan)

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