Friday, 16 May 2014

With You, Without You (2013)

Further to my review below of the Pakistani film "Bol", I recently watched Mira Nair's 2013 American movie "The Reluctant Fundamentalist" (almost interesting enough for its own review). In the opening scenes set in Lahore, a couple are seen leaving a cinema and the fellow is complaining that he prefers entertaining movies; his date retorts that "Bol" was a very brave movie to make and that 'all the students are talking about it'. So it must have been as ground-breaking and controversial a film locally as it was engaging and eye-opening to me. I'm glad I saw it!

As a not tremendous change of pace, today's film hails from Sri Lanka -- and yes, I know as little about the film industry in that country as I do about Pakistan's. Written and directed by Prasanna Vithanage, it is a much smaller tale -- much shorter as well -- but in the end equally heart-wrenching. Set in the aftermath of the country's long civil war, it deals with the difficult reconciliation between the Tamil minority and the rest of the country.

This theme is embodied in two characters, Sarathsiri , a middle-aged pawnbroker in a backwater town and Selvi, a young and beautiful Tamil refugee. He leads a lonely existence watching wrestling on TV in his sparse flat over the shop. She has lost all of her family during the conflict and is living with two old aunts and their families, who begrudge her presence and her poverty. When she pawns her few precious bits and bobs, Sarathsiri is struck by her beauty and wants to be more generous than his thrifty principals allow. Hearing that she is to be married off to an old man, he works up the courage to tell her that he likes her and asks her to marry him -- and surprisingly enough she accepts.

Initially she is ecstatic with her new life and relative comfort (she even goes to a proper cinema for the first time); she wants to get close to her new husband, trying to find out more about his past and surprised at his evasiveness and disinterest in hers. We hear their thoughts as each hopes to find true love with the other, but he for one can not express any of this. When she inadvertently learns that he had served in the army, a soldier like those who killed her two young brothers, who raped and stole, she says she would never have married him had she known; he responds with undue and cruel sarcasm. She becomes withdrawn, stops eating, and begins to waste away.

He is desperate to win her back, wanting her to understand how deeply he loves and needs her, even admitting the shameful actions which caused him to resign from the army. He tells her he will sell his business and take her to India for the visit of which she has always dreamed and they seem to be on the verge of their own reconciliation. However a little worm starts eating away at the viewer and one just knows that there will be no happy ending. As he drives away on his motorbike to collect the wonderful airline tickets (neither of them has ever been on a plane) I had a horrible premonition that he would crash on the road. I was wrong, but the final denouement was far worse....

Maybe next time I will find some happy mindless film to write about without burdening you with my explorations into the esoterica of the Cambodian or Indonesian cinema scenes.
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