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August 31, 2008

The Forsaken Land, 2005

forsaken.gifThe opening sequence of Vimukthi Jayasundara's The Forsaken Land suggests a metaphoric, alien landscape - a land transfigured by the buried scars of a decades-long civil war and the ominous disquiet of a fragile, uncertain peace. A lone militia guard, Anura (Mahendra Perera) patrolling the main road to a remote village, passes his idle hours inspecting the contours of an open field, looking for irregular patches in the topography (perhaps indicating the presence of unmarked, makeshift graves). A disembodied arm juts out from the undulating water, articulated in rigor resembling a prehistoric sea monster surfacing from the lake. The harsh white light from a fluorescent bulb illuminates a dark room, its intensity reflected in the crosscut to a shot of the human eye. A restless woman, Anura's unmarried sister Soma (Kaushalaya Fernando) rises at dawn to bathe using water ported into a barrel in the absence of indoor plumbing, and hears the sound of a tank rolling into a nearby open field to conduct military exercises. In a way, the images capture the desolation of a people existing in a state of suspended animation, harboring the persistent memory of a violent, unreconciled past, and relegated to a life as impotent spectators to the meaningless rituals of everyday life in the isolated village. On the surface, The Forsaken Land suggests Shohei Imamura's Ballad of Narayama in its stark and austere portrait of an inhuman, godless society, where the tainted landscape reflects the nihilism and moral vacuum of disintegrated lives lived in perpetual stasis (as suggested in an episode involving a pregnant villager's apparent suicide by poison ingestion). However, in its abstract naturalism and implicit allusion to the social repercussions of ethnic marginalization, the film also converges towards Apichatpong Weerasethakul's Blissfully Yours, where the forest represents a place of menace (the schoolgirl, Batti's [Pumudika Sapurni Peiris] encounter with the night guard, Piyasiri [Hemasiri Liyanage]) and transitory escape (Anura and a soldier's retreat into a trench to smoke). It is within this context of protracted ethnic conflict and disenfranchisement that Piyasiri's recounted children's tale - about an impoverished woman called "Little Bird" who once set out with a cup of rice as dowry to faraway lands in order to find a husband, only to be killed by her prospective husband after a perceived slight and humiliation - may be seen as an allegory for the civil war itself: a marginalized people who has razed its own home in order to assuage its guilt and insecurity, eternally condemned to a karmic cycle of self-inflicted retaliation as victim and transgressor.

Posted by acquarello on Aug 31, 2008 | | Filed under 2008


I'm actually from Sri-Lanka and when I visited a few months ago I asked my uncle about "The Forsaken Land" ("Sulanga Enu Pinisa" in Sinhalese which is a little weird to translate but it's something like "That Which the Wind Dictates" or "Dictations That Come with the Wind") and he said it's yet to be released there in any form. I showed the movie to my parents and they were really shocked and snickered every time breasts were exposed because that sort of thing is very rare in Sri-Lankan cinema even nowadays. I'm always on the lookout for some decent Sri-Lankan films but there aren't many out there. There was one called "August Sun" and another called "Nidhanaya" by Lester James Peries which is easily one of the best movies I've ever seen. I hate that I could only find a bootleg copy of "Nidhanaya" even in Sri-Lanka. I'm really hoping the Criterion Collection makes a Lester James Peries box set in the future because he is just as good as Satyajit Ray but not as appreciated for some reason; maybe it has something to do with Sri-Lanka being an itty-bitty Island.

Posted by: Israel Vonseeger on Sep 03, 2008 5:17 PM | Permalink

Hi Israel, you're right about the dearth of Sri Lankan films out there. I've only seen one Peries film, Mansion by the Lake, which played a few years ago at NYFF. It seemed like a pretty minor film though, although I can see the Ray comparison in terms of his approach to documenting contemporary social conditions (this one was about emigres who return home to their neglected ancestral home). Mansion by the Lake seemed to play with generalities too much, and I wonder if that had to do with the political situation.

Posted by: acquarello [TypeKey Profile Page] on Sep 03, 2008 8:28 PM | Permalink


There are some great Sri Lankan films out there. Concerning Lester James Peries, I think Wekande Walawe (Mansion by the Lake) is one of his lesser films. His most impressive work imo is his debut Rekawa which was a landmark in Sri Lankan film. Shot in 1956, it was made completely outside of the studio and used an original Sinhala story with no basis in literary or historical material, a first. D. R. Nanayakkara gives an amazing performance in the film as does the young Somapala Dharmapriya and Myrtle Fernando. His other work I enjoy include Desa Nisa, Gamperaliya and Madol Duwa. I've yet to see Nidhanaya unfortunately.

Other great filmmakers include Prasanna Vithanage (Purahanda Kaluwara, a meditative masterwork, the greatest Sri Lankan movie ever IMO) Dharmasena Pathiraja (Bambaru Awith, the clash of city dwellers with fisher folk), Sumitra Peries (Gehenu Lamai, a character study of an obedient rural girl) and Mahagama Sekera (Thun Man Handiya, his life in film). Titus Thotwatte is also good though I've yet to see a complete film by him. Kurulu Bedda, Sikuru Tharuwa, Ran Muthu Duwa, Binaramali and Bakmaha Deegeya are also considered good films though I've not seen them.

Posted by: Upendra Samaranayake on Mar 18, 2009 2:33 AM | Permalink

I forgot Vasantha Obeysekera. He has some intriguing stuff (I've yet to see them though). Palengetiyo, Ves Gatho, etc... are considered good films.

There's also Sath Samudura, about a fishing hamlet done by Dr. Siri Gunasinghe. Hanthana Kathawa by Sugathapala Senerath Yapa, Nim Wallalla by Ranjith Lal, Hansa Vilak by Dharmasiri Bandaranayake, Mokeda Une by Piyasiri Gunaratne, etc...

Posted by: Upendra Samaranayake on Mar 18, 2009 2:38 AM | Permalink

Thanks, for the leads, Upendra. I figured as much about the Peries film, even when it was selected at NYFF, the write-up was more about celebrating his long career than about the film itself. I'll definitely keep an eye out for them. From Vithanage's site, it looks as though there's a Sri Lankan DVD set of some of his films too. I'll see if I can track it down when I'm in New York.

Posted by: acquarello [TypeKey Profile Page] on Mar 18, 2009 9:05 AM | Permalink

I've caught up with Purahanda Kaluwara and Anantha Rathriya so far, and I agree with you on Vithanage's wonderful command of the medium. I like his sense of economy, his films are distilled but highly charged, and his staging is quite thematic.

Posted by: acquarello [TypeKey Profile Page] on Apr 09, 2009 1:41 PM | Permalink

If you may excuse me Aquarello, part reason for writing this was to get the Sri Lankan perspective from your readers.
I had been to Sri Lanka a few days back and couldn't find Forsaken Land in the stores there. Some told me it hadn't been released still. Which is strange. People in the US have more access to it than us in the sub-continent.
I was curious to know how Sri Lankans access these films.
As an aside, Prasanna Vithanage's Akasa Kusum was playing in Colombo. How I wish I had seen this post before going there. Might have got hold of some movies mentioned here.

Posted by: Vivek on Sep 18, 2009 6:53 AM | Permalink

No problem, Vivek, it's a good question.

Posted by: acquarello [TypeKey Profile Page] on Sep 18, 2009 6:42 PM | Permalink

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