DENNIS SCHWARTZ 
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FORSAKEN LAND, THE (Sulanga Enu Pinisa) (director/writer: Vimukthi Jayasundara; cinematographer: Channa Deshapriya; editor: Gisèle Rapp-Meichler; music: Nadeeka Guruge; cast: Mahendra Perera (Anura), Kaushalya Fernando (Soma), Nilupili Jayawardena (Lata), Hemasiri Liyanage (Piyasiri), Saumya Liyanage (Palita), Pumidika Sapurni Peiris (Batti); Runtime: 108; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Philippe Avril; New Yorker Films; 2005-Sri Lanka/France-in Sinhalese with English subtitles)

 
"The auspicious directorial debut of Sri Lanka filmmaker Vimukthi Jayasundara."

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

This is the auspicious directorial debut of Sri Lanka filmmaker Vimukthi Jayasundara, who shows a terrific command of film technique and paints his film in stunningly sharp artificial colors that are attention getting--to say the least. The 27-year-old director currently lives in Paris, where he studied film and mentioned in interviews that he was influenced by European classics and celebrated Sri Lankan filmmaker auteur Lester James Peries. His touching and poignant minimalist poetical mood film won the Camera d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival. It reminded me in its reliance on visuals of Andrei Tarkovsky's Ivan's Childhood, as both tell their psychological war casualty story not through words but mostly through powerful imagery. Jayasundara paints a horrifying picture of what long wars do to people's souls, as it's set in Sri Lanka's remote wind-swept palm tree-lined sea coast following twenty-plus years of a civil war between the Sinhalese government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. The postwar-trauma film is not that good on articulated explanations but good at describing the uneasy cease-fire treaty that exists for a group of troubled people who live in the war-torn hinterlands, far from any city, in an unnamed no-man's land and are suffering from battered souls. Because of all the past conflict, they find themselves doing odd things as their frustration builds till it reaches a breaking point. The Sri Lanka army patrols the area from their nearby camp and its mission is to see to it that the peace is kept.

The quiet Anura is a serviceman who does guard duty days and shares his humble home, complete with an outhouse, with his sensuous unfaithful restless wife Lata and his watchful older unmarried devout Buddhist sister Soma. Wife and sister do not like each other, as the sister contemplates applying for a teaching job in another area to get away from this tense scene. Anura is relieved of guard duty at night by an older man named Piyasiri who, on one fateful day, lets on to the little girl Batti he is coming on to things about his painful past that still trouble him. The old man couches the story like it's a children's fairy tale. Batti is the child of Anuri's neighbor and enjoys being around the warm but brooding Soma, and soberly asks the respected elder if she will live to see adulthood. During that same day Lata is observed in bed by Soma with one of the soldiers from the nearby camp, and later that evening Anura is called out by the army to perform the brutal task of beating an unidentified stranger strapped inside a sack to death with a club. A duty performed under force that will leave him compromised morally for the rest of his life.

It's a haunting tale that is affecting and has been well-received in its limited showing to foreign audiences. At home, the Sri Lankan military officials repudiated the film as merely propaganda for the rebel Tamil Tigers.

REVIEWED ON 8/31/2008        GRADE: B

Dennis Schwartz: "Ozus' World Movie Reviews"

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