OUR BURMESE DAYS

Germany, 1996 (MIFF 1996, Documenta)

Director: Lindsey Merrison

Lindsey Merrison's mother. Sally, is Anglo-Burmese. In this documentary Lindsey takes Sally and her brother Bill back to the sights and settings of their childhood in what is now Myanmar .However, Our Burmese Days does far more than indulge nostalgia or offer insights into the colonial history of a mysterious and little understood land.

What makes the film special and compelling is Sally's inability to acknowledge her Burmese ancestry, while her brother seems relatively relaxed about it all. For years Sally hid her heritage from her children, telling them she came from Wales, her secrecy going so far as to leave her Burmese mother to die in poverty and loneliness. Even now, after being coaxed and wheedled onto the trip back to Burma, she does not want to talk about the past. "What do you say to people when they ask where you're from?" her daughter enquires at one point "I tell them I'm from Hemel Hempstead, and that's where you're from too," her mother replies flatly.

Our Burmese Days reminds us again of the enduring legacy and pain of a time before multiculturalism was celebrated, when the most shameful thing in British colonial culture was to be considered half-caste. We discover that Sally's father refused to let her speak Burmese and insisted on her assimilation. Gradually, as her trauma becomes more visible. Sally becomes a more sympathetic character and, as Merrison says "Although ostensibly we are tracing the family's flight from the invading Japanese during the last war. in reality we are penetrating further and further into my mother's heart of darkness" (KB)


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