Midwives review: A compelling and hopeful insight into events leading up to Myanmar coup

Burmese documentary film chronicles the friendship and conflicts between a Buddhist Bamar midwife and her Muslim Rohingya apprentice

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Director: Snow Hnin Ei Hlaing
Cert: None
Genre: Documentary
Starring: Hla, Nyo Nyo
Running Time: 1 hr 31 mins

This Burmese documentary film directed by Snow Hnin Ei Hlaing chronicles the friendship and conflicts between a Buddhist Bamar midwife and her Muslim Rohingya apprentice. Set in the Rakhine State of Myanmar where the ongoing persecution and ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya people is evident from the many parades denouncing Muslim “terrorists”, and absurdly nationalist Rakhine pop songs. “Listen to me; I will whisper in your ear,” sings a pretty, dancing girl on the TV. “Our Rakhine State lies under the Yoma Mountains, it’s very rich in natural resources.”

Hla is a Buddhist and the owner and operator of a painfully rudimentary medical clinic in rural Myanmar. Nyo Nyo is a Muslim and an apprentice midwife who is often required as a translator at the clinic, one of few facilities that will treat Muslims. That doesn’t necessarily mean they are treated well. Hla frequently uses racist language when treating Muslim or darker-skinned women. These divisions sit oddly in a tiny village with a distant pagoda skyline that wouldn’t look out of place in Koyaanisqatsi.

Nyo Nyo’s family has lived in the area for generations, and she is continually dismayed by the pervasive culture of extreme Rakhine nationalism and the designation of her own community as interlopers.

Under the tutelage and guidance of Hia, Nyo Nyo hopes to found her own clinic as a healthcare provider for her community. Their friendship is complicated not only by ethnic divisions, but by Hla’s brusque bedside manner. The two women remain touchingly tolerant of one another. When Nyo Nyo sells her gold and sets up her own premises, Hla predictably turns up to scold her about how she has organised her shelves.


A compelling and hopeful insight into the turbulence leading up to the 2021 coup.

Tara Brady

Tara Brady

Tara Brady, a contributor to The Irish Times, is a writer and film critic