Return to Burma (2011)

3.5 stars

A promising debut from a gifted filmmaker whose raw, neorealist approach gives authenticity to the stories of the poor in Burma.

Dir. Midi Z
2011 | Burma/Taiwan | Drama | 84 mins | 2.35:1 | Burmese
PG13 (passed clean) for smoking scenes

Cast: Lu Jiun, Wang Shin-Hong
Plot: A man who works as a construction worker in Taiwan returns home to his family in Burma, but realises things have changed in his home country.
Awards: Nom. for New Currents Award (Busan); Nom. for Tiger Award (Rotterdam)
International Sales: Flash Forward Entertainment

Accessibility Index
Subject Matter: Moderate
Narrative Style: Straightforward
Pace: Slightly Slow
Audience Type: Slightly Arthouse

Review #1,803

(Reviewed at S.E.A. of Sadness programme at Oldham Theatre)

Spoilers: No

One of contemporary Asian cinema’s foremost chroniclers of the human condition as experienced by people at the fringes of society, Taiwan-based filmmaker Midi Z has been preoccupied with themes of identity, labour and socio-economic issues that affect the poor for most parts of the current decade.

Return to Burma, his first feature, shows a gifted filmmaker already confident of his storytelling and aesthetic style from the get-go.  Here, he employs a raw, neorealist approach to capturing the lives of the poor in Burma, his home country.

The film centers on a young man who returns to his family in Burma after a stint as a construction worker in Taiwan.  It has been a tiring and dangerous job which he hopes not to return to.  In fact, he wishes to stay put and open a store, selling something… anything at all.

However, some of his friends and loved ones want to venture overseas for work because they earn peanuts here. It is this transient nature of existence (of wanting to belong to their home country, but also needing to think of a strategy to make ends meet) that sees these poor folks get stuck in a cycle of going and returning.

Return to Burma is an authentic work, though a bit slow and sometimes meandering, but it is a promising debut.  Some of the finest scenes are when the men break out into song over drinks, reveling in moments of bliss—moments that are far and few between in their lives.

Grade: B+


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