Eastern Sri Lanka, 1989. Kusum’s husband has been murdered by militants. She works her fingers to the bone in a quarry to support her eight children and mother-in-law. So when one evening Kusum is checking her oldest daughter for nits and her mother-in-law warns her it brings bad luck, she shrugs and asks, “How could things be worse?” But this is exactly what Burning Birds goes on to show. Kusum sinks even further into desperation, 'helped' by a patriarchal society that has precious little sympathy. Kusum sacrifices her dignity until there is nothing left.
Director Pushpakumara grew up in an impoverished family; after his father unexpectedly died, his uncle was murdered by soldiers. His second feature, following Flying Fish (IFFR 2001), is an indictment that is mercilessly explicit in its depiction of the harshness of reality. However, he also captures Sri Lanka lovingly, in beautiful earthen tints. Each of his vistas, his attention to landscape and sky, emphasise Kusum’s lack of room to manoeuvre.