Sanjeewa’s film intertwines three stories dealing with the spoils of the Sri Lankan civil war. A young girl is harassed at school by Tamil Tigers who demand monetary “donations” that her family cannot afford to pay. An unmarried lovelorn woman is impregnated by a soldier. When the soldier abandons her, the girl and her father struggle to endure the shame. A widow, mother of eight children longing for male companionship, mistakes a well-to-do villager’s questionable benevolence towards her family as love. Tragedy strikes when her teenage son discovers the affair.
Sanjeewa’s approach to story-telling is clinical. He avoids the trappings of attention-seeking and sometimes imposing extreme close-up/ close ups and frenzied cuts to create tension and drama. He uses what is essential with the belief that less-is-more to render the three stories. He uses extreme long shots, stationary camera and long and often voyeuristic takes to lead us into the unfamiliar world of Sri Lanka’s countryside – a countryside which looks like a land under occupation, where people live like refugees. A populace with neither any ideal nor hope! Waiting for the impending doom is their only choice. It doesn’t matter who is a Tamil or who is a Sinhalese – both are perpetrators of violence, both are victims. Men enlist in the army or otherwise get executed by the Tamil Tigers or the local pro-government militia or just hang out with a rifle in hand. When they don’t have anything else to do, the pro-government militia and the army seduce local women into having sex.
Prolonged and repeated love-making among ruins, first captured in static long shots and then slowly closing in a little to a point from where we could clearly observe without spoiling the act and hear the gasps of the love-making couple, infuses an otherwise morbid mood of the film with a raw and liberating energy. The long takes turn us into voyeurs.
Scenes of bathing of the impregnated unmarried woman and her soldier lover in the river in twilight, the rendezvous of the widow’s son with his classmate-girlfriend among boulders to escape the senseless misery – are all observed from a distance. Even the criminal acts – crimes of passion and killings which conclude each of the three stories — are shot in wide-angle with camera placed even further than for a normal medium shot so as not to merely exploit the obvious shock value of the moments.
Take a stroll in the locales with Sanjeewa’s camera and you meet people living in constant fear – even the fish vendors, with cutting knives in hand, look like executioners! The bloody remains of the chopped fish portend to impending death.
Flying Fish has done exceptionally well at international film festivals and has bagged the Critics Choice award at the 5th New Jersey Independent South Asian Cine Fest (www.NJISACF.org).
By Sakti Sengupta (Asian-American Film Theater) / March 2011, on Celluloid views