Our Burmese Days
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by Lindsey Merrison
color, 94 min, 1996
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An examination of biculturalism wrapped in an extraordinary personal odyssey. Our Burmese Days is also a fascinating defacto glimpse of life in a country that's rarely covered in the media today. Now known as Myanmar, the film's title is a reference to the novel "Burmese Days" by George Orwell, who worked for a time in the country's colonial police force.
This record of a daughter's attempts to understand her mother's denial of her roots "because it is too complicated a story to tell" reveals a family history that is both as tragic and as comic as any and yet unique when seen in the context of their colonial past. U.K.- born director Lindsey Merrison spent the first half of her life not even knowing that her mother, Sally, was Anglo-Burmese. Speaking in impeccable English, and claiming she came from Hemel Hempstead (a byword for white, middle-class respectability) the latter never referred to the country she left in the early 1950's.
Merrison's film follows her mom and her uncle Bill on a trip back to Burma for the first time in over 40 years, revisiting sites from their youth, some relatively unchanged. The trip is illuminating for Bill, but often painful for Sally. For Merrison too, the journey is eye-opening with the tables gently turned on her role of inquisitor as she penetrates further and further into her mother's heart of darkness. As Bill says to her at the end, there's no big truth about life, just a series of discoveries.
B&W footage of the war in Burma is well integrated with modern views and memories. The camera gives a a feel for contemporary life, both urban and rural without being "touristy". The filmmaker had long negotiations with the country's military for a permit to shoot this film. While the political situation is only hinted at the film is eloquent about the violence of world and family history; eloquent about the anguish and spiritual expense of hating one's own origins.