A UFO from Sri Lanka By Rui Pedro Tendinha

in 15th Brisbane International Film Festival

by Rui Tendinha

What can happen inside a long tracking shot? In The Forsaken Land, what happens is actually life. Life, indeed, with a strong sense of reality; a reality that offers some glimpses of a cinematic order of time, where length appears to be structured with a spell-binding kind of verticality. At the Brisbane International Film Festival, it was rewarding to see a bunch of new cinematic visions and first-time features, but nothing like Vimukthi Jayasundara’s depiction of a remote corner of the world.

Set in Sri Lanka, the film tells the story of two home guard servicemen in an area of the country heavily marked by the civil war. Both men are loners, accustomed to the deadly silence and to an inevitable sense of waiting. One of the men lives with his wife, her sister and the sister’s child . Those women are the ones who manage to dream about another life, even when frustration and lethargy seem to overcome them.

The slow camera movements and the contrived emotional lines are presented in a simple way, without any kinds of tricks or hidden metaphors. The filmmaker is more interested in details; small observations of human behavior in a land that changes people. Though we can feel the dust and the heat (it’s very interesting the way the sweat pours from the characters), there’s a surprisingly glacial tone.

The whole production has an aura that suggests a distant melodramatic license, achieved with a coldness that fits well with the expanded atmosphere. That has to do with its setting on the front line – the no man’s land that evokes a symbolic feeling of despair.

Luckily, Jayasundara is not hasty with his meditation because he also wants to evoke a sense of still-life paintings. The result is a visual consistency that recalls Tarkovksy (sparse dialogue and plot are also indicators…), with each shot encapsulating a crucial honesty, underpinned with a controlled use of colour and lighting.

Of course, Jayasundara walks a tightrope in favouring mood and ambience over storytelling, but he always manages to captivate our eyes, our soul. The Forsaken Land is certainly not a hate letter to Sri Lanka, but could be remembered for something that touches a sense of emptiness. Maybe, with the recent alarming news of attacks in Sri Lanka, it will make even more sense.

Now we just pray that in his “difficult second movie”, Jayasundara continues to film with raw visual poetry.