For a debut feature, it’s a work of remarkable restraint.

Not a war film as such. Sanjeewa PUSHPAKUMARA’s Flying Fish is nonetheless a direct response to the civil war which ravaged Sri Lanka for some 25 years – until the Sri Lankan government moved in 2008 to crush the Tamil Tiger rebels once and for all in a series of round-ups and massacres. Like wards, the Sri Lankan civil war was ugly and brutal and scarred with atrocities; there is evidence of war crimes on both sides, which the United Nations under BAN Ki-Moon has  so far refused to investigate. PUSHPAKUMAR’s film touches on several aspects of the conflict ,including  the way that the “ Tigers” coerced the Tamil communities into providing financial and material support  for their terrorist campaigns, but this focus is on young people (both Tamil & Sinhalese)  whose lives are marked by the climate of poverty,  desperation and bloodshed.He says that the stories in the film are all based on fact and, in some cases, on his own first –hand observation of what happened in Sri Lanka’s village.

These are stories filled with rage, suffering, sexual abandon, and calamity, but the director films them with a cool detachment. For a debut feature, it’s a work of remarkable restraint. He films mostly in wide – angle shots, using very few close-ups, insisting on on seeing the characters as figures in landscapes. There are probably several reasons why he chose this type of “cinematic staging” (as David BORDWELL calls it). One is that it follows the example of the film-makers he admires – HOU Hsiao –hsien, perhaps, who realized very early in his career that the best way to work with non-or semi-professional actors was to allow them some autonomy of movement in a wide composition and to give them the space to behave naturally. Another is that he’s wary of melodrama. The stories he tells all deal with intense and sometimes extreme emotions, but doesn’t want to wallow in the characters passions in the close-up – and he doesn’t want the viewer to do so either. And yet another is that he wants to evoke the off screen horrors of the war as much as the on screen tensions and traumas the characters experience. Wide angle compositions suit his purposes on all counts.

The film offers a wide range of characters across its three story lines, but the director is mainly interested in the children. He starts from an insider’s view of Sri Lankan rural life: he shows work, boredom, frustration, hunger, sex and violence in a matter of fact way, giving us images of a kind not found in earlier Sri Lankan movies. He uses very minimal dialogue, preferring to let the images do the “takking” and then he adds the strongly felt reality of the unseen war, which derails and deforms all the characters attempts to lead normal lives. The war brings soldiers into the villages and co-opts the adult males into the civil defense force, where they are ridiculed and humiliated by the professionals. Sex between visiting soldiers and local girls inevitably follows, along with unwanted pregnancies and botched attempts at abortion. The traditional morality of the communities falls to pieces. Driven by guilt and rage, the characters do things that would have been unthinkable in another time. Hanging over everything is the unspoken question: what is all this doing to the children? What will the next generation of adults be like?

PUSHPAKUMARA has an interesting and unusual biography. He’s from avillage in east Sri Lanka, and has had stints in broadcasting (radio and TV) and journalism as well as studying Mass Communications and publishing books on Cinema. He’s made a couple of shorts before, but this heroic indie feature announces his talent. Sri Lankan cinema found its first true modernist.

By Tony Rayans / 5th Cinema Digital Seoul Film Festival 2011 (Pg. 46-47)