As I have repeatedly stated this year, it appears that Sri Lanka is making significant progress in the world of cinema. The three films I have watched this year have all been quite impressive. Therefore, I decided to explore what was happening in previous years, beginning with “Peacock Lament” by Sanjeewa Pushpakumara, one of the most well-known local directors, along with Prasanna Vithanage.
Amila is a 19-year-old boy from a small village in Eastern Sri Lanka. After his parents passed away, he moves to Colombo to provide a better life for his four younger siblings. He has two brothers, ages 14 and 1, and two sisters, ages 12 and 5. His sister Inoka has Tetralogy of Fallot, a congenital heart defect, and needs urgent surgery within two months. Amila, who works in construction, promises to raise the $15,000 needed for the surgery. However, his income and his siblings’ begging on the street are not enough. Desperate for money, Amila meets Malini, a 55-year-old woman who offers him a job in her child trafficking business. Despite making good money, Amila struggles with his conscience as he becomes more involved in the illegal transport of women. As time goes on, his situation and inner turmoil become increasingly intense.
Sanjeewa Pushpakumara directs a unique drama that portrays a rarely shown aspect of life in Sri Lanka. The film explores the theme of rich Europeans purchasing babies from poor Asians, shedding light on the harsh realities of how the world operates. Alongside this, the film also exposes the corruption of doctors and officials, adding a darker layer to the story. Ultimately, the film follows a family whose fate serves as a reminder of the lack of social care provided by poor Asian countries, all while highlighting the ongoing cycle of corruption, poverty, and exploitation by the West. The director also raises thought-provoking questions about the burden of having a family in such circumstances and the sacrifices one is willing to make, potentially harming others, to protect their loved ones.
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Pushpakumara’s method may have been excessively emotional, but the authenticity with which he portrays the events and the detachment of both the camera and the actors actually aid in maintaining the film’s realism, despite its basic premise. This results in the movie occasionally functioning as a sort of documentary about a specific way of life. However, this approach also leads to a significant flaw as it makes it challenging for viewers to empathize with the characters. It seems as though Pushpakumara intended for his audience to simply observe without getting involved, although this may not be the most ideal choice.
He attempts to demonstrate that there are no bad people in the world, portraying the Europeans as uninformed and Malini as a victim of the system who has her own sad story to justify her actions. This theme is also evident when the two main characters share their vulnerabilities, creating one of the most powerful scenes in the film. Akalanka Prabashwara and Sabeetha Perera deliver excellent performances and their on-screen chemistry is undeniable.
Sisikirana Paranavithana’s camera is the main medium of the documentary-like detachment mentioned before, while his framing emerges as excellent on occasion, with the scenes in the abandoned building being particularly impressive. The sudden cuts implemented frequently by editor Giuseppe Leonetti also move in the same direction, additionally inducing a relatively slow-paced movie with a very appealing sense of movement.
The movie “Peacock Lament” is well-made in terms of its contextual relevance, but its cinematic style falls short in comparison to other Sri Lankan films from 2023. However, it is still worth watching for its portrayal of different lifestyles and thought-provoking commentary.