Set in Myanmar where the majority of the population are Buddhists, Midwives touches on the conflict between them and the small group of Muslim Rohingya living in the village of Rakhine. In 2016, the military police began the ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya. The film by Snow Hnin Ei follows one of the only clinics that treat Muslims, run by Buddhist Hla alongside her Muslim apprentice Nyo Nyo.
There’s a great deal of contrast in the clips shown throughout the documentary, such as the simplicity of village life against the violent conflict between the two groups. Scenes of farming, nature, Hla and Nyo Nyo shopping and laughing together and children just living their lives are undercut by archival footage of burning cities, rallies against Muslims, military tanks and explosions. This visual technique further highlights a specific coping mechanism Nyo Nyo uses herself – laughing as she explains certain tragedies of life.
Nyo Nyo is a very charming protagonist. She initially starts with a simple dream of wanting to see the big city. As tensions rise in Rakhine, her end goal changes to setting up her own clinic so that she can help her own community. Her dynamic with Hla is very fascinating: it’s tough love and a sisterly kind of bond. Yet there’s still an underlying prejudice there. Hla underestimates Nyo Nyo and uses derogatory terms when referring to her. But at the end of the day, Hla is very proud of Nyo Nyo whenever she finally opens up her own clinic.
Much of the film’s impact comes through visual details viewers can pick up on. For example, Hla and Nyo Nyo’s relationship is framed in one specific scene of them shopping. Hla says that Nyo Nyo looks good in pink because the colour brown looks too dark on her. Throughout the rest of the film, Nyo Nyo only wears pink and light colours. Being constantly referred to as “dark” by Hla, Nyo Nyo wears a lot of white powder to lighten up her skin. Furthermore, the passage of time isn’t explicitly stated but can be deduced through the growth of Nyo Nyo’s daughter and the death of the elders.
It’s these simple little things captured by the camera, paired with the upbeat and hopeful score, that truly elucidate the nuance in Nyo Nyo’s journey.
Midwives is released in select cinemas on 30th September 2022.
Watch the trailer for Midwives here: