THE FORSAKEN LAND (Vimukthi Jayasundara, 2005)

I have added the following entry to my 100 Greatest Asian Films list.

Recurrent civil war since 1983 in Sri Lanka has had a devastating effect on the land and its people. Writer-director Vimukthi Jayasundara was both rewarded and censured for his Kiarostaminian Sulanga Enu Pinisa, winning the Caméra d’Or (for best first feature) at Cannes and being warned by his government to make films praising the national military rather than criticizing it. In 2009, another film by Jayasundara, Ahasin Wetei, was released.
     Embedded in the opening credits is a long-shot of an armed soldier at night in a vast barren landscape. In a bravura long-shot the next day, a woman and a girl both aim to board a bus. The woman is walking leisurely across a field to the bus stop; the girl is on the road, running fast to reach the stop and not be left behind. She makes it; the woman gives her a lift up. Like most of Jayasundara’s images, this one is poetic, ambiguous and emotionally sweeping. We see the shared experience of two anonymous characters and something more elusive: the possibility that both are the same character, at different stages of her life, doubly inhabiting the same haunted frame. We eventually learn that the two are aunt and niece. In another long-shot a stripped-naked man is tossed into the river by fellow soldiers; a solitary bird perches on the branch of a bare, solitary tree. The bird flies off, but either another bird or the same one lands on the tree. Odd-man-out; two birds or one: both aspects of the mise-en-scène strangely connect. Both niece and aunt, the soldier’s daughter and sister, are subsequently referred to as “Little Bird.”
     Episodic, elliptical, minimalist, powerful, Jayasundara’s near-speechless film includes marital infidelity, unwanted sexual attentions, two suicides, a graphic scene of torture, a grotesque military murder.

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