Perhaps it’s mean-spirited to say that a movie based on the director’s personal experience of a brutal 26-year civil war is unpleasant. But that’s the word that comes to mind after watching the Sri Lankan filmmaker Sanjeewa Pushpakumara’s debut feature, “Flying Fish.” One of the film’s recurring motifs is insects — crawling on people’s legs, clustering on their food — and after a while it starts to feel as if the characters in Mr. Pushpakumara’s slow-moving, three-stranded story are being treated in much the same way as those anonymous bugs.
The fighting between the Sri Lankan Army and the Tamil insurgents, which ended in 2009, is kept off screen. What we see are three vignettes, each tying together sex, shame and violence: an impoverished widow who has an affair, to her son’s chagrin; a village girl whose trysts with a soldier are spied on by her father; and a Tamil couple who are being extorted by rebel fighters at the same time that their daughter is going through her first menstruation. Repeated images lace together the largely unconnected stories. In addition to insects Mr. Pushpakumara favors cigarettes, public urination and sex performed standing up in ruined buildings, with the audience more or less in the position of a firing squad.
The intertwining of the narratives, along with the somewhat elliptical, or perhaps rudimentary, storytelling, makes for a confusing experience. But the stories are mainly an excuse for pretty pictures, some quite striking, of poverty and oppression, and for a closing frenzy of bloodletting. Mr. Pushpakumara has studied filmmaking in South Korea, and the rhythms of “Flying Fish,” as well as some lovely watery images, bring to mind films by the Korean director Kim Ki-duk, like “The Isle” and “Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter … and Spring.”