Sunday, June 26, 2016

The Theory of Love

It was during the Myanmar Human Rights Human Dignity International Film Festival that I saw the 2015 documentary called the "Swedish Theory of Love". Erik Gandini's documentary portrays the Swedish society as one of independent but lonely individuals. 

The Swedish theory of individualism is based on the conviction that individuals should be financially independent and free from each other: women from men and elderly from their family.  It developed many years ago and, as a result, nowadays 47% of households have only one resident and  people are losing their capacity to interact and socialise.  

It is also true that the Swedish Welfare State is there to help citizens in case of material difficulties in life. If I was personally somewhat surprised with some of the aspects presented in the movie the surprise from Myanmar moviegoers was all the greater. Myanmar people cherish the traditional  way of life and for them family is the centrepiece of the society? 

You should have heard the Aaahs! Wows! and Nooos! of Myanmar person in the seat next to mine. He was shocked that many Swedes die alone in their flats, sometimes undiscovered for weeks or months, that single young women deliberately choose to have children through sperm banks, etc. Maybe he believed that the movie must have been a fictional story? Truth be told, in many of the exclamations I joined him.

The documentary also presents some entertaining scenes as regards the cultural integration of migrants. A social worker taught a group of Syrian migrants that the Swedes prefer brief conversations and that short answers, like the "Yes" or the "No" often suffice. When asked if he is married, a middle-aged gentlemen replied "Obviously" which was an unacceptable answer in the opinion of the social worker who clarified that in Sweden this is not obvious at all given that many live alone, in open relationships or partnerships. The expression on the migrants' faces was one of disbelief.  Another migrant remarked that it is impossible to strike a conversation with a local because you never see them on the streets.

After watching this movie I reflected on what I had seen and learned and tried to put it into the context in which I currently live and through which lens the Myanmar public would have seen the movie.

The Myanmar Theory of Love, as much as I have learned until now, is based on inclusiveness and readiness to help each other. The Myanmar society is very united with extended families living together under one roof. In many cases there is only one bread winner and this person provides for the entire family, unconditionally. There are countless cases where young people work abroad, many times in difficult conditions, and send the entire salaries back home to help build a better house or the provide for education for sisters and brothers. You notice many times large noisy gatherings of people, especially in the monasteries. They sit and happily chatter even if they do not know each other. Often, in the market I greet the locals. Sometimes they even start a short conversation with you. True, there is no social net here but people help the ones in need as best as they can, sometimes with food, sometimes only with advice. As mentioned, the family is the centerpiece of society, not the individual. This may soon start to change as the country starts to develop more rapidly.

During the screening I often asked myself if any of the Myanmar citizens watching the documentary will ever consider settling in Sweden? At the end of the movie, I asked my young neighbour in the seat to my left if he would ever consider moving to Sweden. "Oh no, but maybe just a short visit", he replied.

I also thought of the fact that many European countries are not as perfect as the Myanmar citizens often believe them to be, and moving to a developed country does not make you necessarily happier.
Anyhow I was really pleased that Myanmar citizens could see such an informative documentary and I am sure that in many local families the subject sparked intense discussions. 

I hope I made you sufficiently curious for you to consider watching the Swedish Theory of Love.
An interview with Erik Gandini, the director and writer can be found here.

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