A journey worth sitting through | Sunday Observer

A journey worth sitting through

11 June, 2017

Sri Lankan filmmaker Prasanna Jayakody held the premiere of his latest creation for the silver screen on June 2 at the Regal Cinema in Colombo. Titled 28, the film offers what is arguably a sense of freshness to our country’s contemporary ‘film scene’ so to say. With a small cast of actors who deliver commendable performances, Jayakody’s work unfolds with a storyline that offers the sweetness of simplicity as ‘storytelling’.

“28” doesn’t prove to be a film narrated in the ‘realist’ form per se given the narrative method devised by the filmmaker. A dead woman speaks of how she arrived at her pitiful end, working in the underground commercial sex industry of the big city. The man who sets out to claim her remains, her husband, after the cortege has been placed in the house, too speaks to the camera in the manner of breaking the ‘fourth wall’ to mark the end. There is in that sense a touch of nonlinearity and the non-traditional shaping of the narrative approach of “28”. One does not find pretentious artiness devised to impose senseless impressions of unfathomable complexity in this film. On the contrary, what is found is a straightforward story that evokes empathy with moments of humour, wit, and poignancy through dialogue, situations and the expressions that give them life as cinema.

The cinematography captures facets of the changing scenery from the big city to rural hill country, in ways that emphasize the degrees of solitude afforded to people, whether they bargain for it or not. The film is perhaps in one sense about how solitude is never fully afforded a person, until cradled in death. Death in that sense can be the point at which the story of the departed may truly come out. Thereby, possibly a symbolic beginning, as ironic as it may sound.

‘Suddhi’ the female protagonist played by Semini Iddamalgoda has the ‘space’ of telling her story to us uninterrupted only as a voice that speaks from the other side of life. How sad one may think, that a person’s life remains unknown until they are no longer among the living. But perhaps, that is the truth that many are subject to.

Mahendra Perera, Sarath Kothalawala and Rukmal Nirosh take the viewer on a journey that shows the interplay of characters locked in a fate where both their human will and compulsions of circumstance dictate the odds are challenged and overcome to ensure the completion of a duty that is morally inescapable. Their performances are praiseworthy and deserve robust applause. While watching how the rickety old ice cream van winds its way on hilly roads with a coffin containing a corpse tied to its hood rack so that a woman who is gradually revealed to be of ‘ill fame’ may be put to rest with dignity, I couldn’t help but conceive an image of the dutiful tenacious journey undertaken by the Bundren family in William Faulkner’s novel As I Lay Dying to put to rest the remains of Addie Bundren.

Speaking as an apparition or a ‘metaphysical persona’, Iddamalgoda’s character shows a much lesser degree of variance in expression compared to the other characters. This somewhat monotony in her character’s ‘rhythm’ gives a facet of the sepulchral while also maintaining ‘a more than a mere semblance’ of a ‘living voice’. The characterization is commendable in that sense. However, I did feel at a few instances where she speaks in close-up frame shots, the time spent to depict her in stillness and silence staring at the camera even after her words were spoken seemed an unnecessary directorial imposition. In my opinion the depth of her character and the solemnity of the moment didn’t always require ‘added inertia’ as in those few instances. However, it must be noted that Iddamalgoda delivers a commendable performance.

Contemplating on the film’s title and how 28 can be deduced for its relevance to the story, as it doesn’t function as a noticeable slogan or phrase per se, I must admit I couldn’t detect in the narrative, the text of the film, its connecting point to the story. ‘Abasiri’ played by Mahendra Perera, says he searched for ‘Suddhi’ for 15 years since she walked out of their marriage. ‘Suddhi’ says, she was 23 years old when she met Abasiri and he proposed marriage to her, and that she was 15 years his junior. I wondered if the title was meant to play on those numbers but the math just doesn’t work out. So admittedly, the title of this film to me remains ciphered.

Although not particularly a work that fits the bill of a ‘commercial film’ meant for popular cinema, I do believe “28” will be appreciated by many a popular mainstream cinemagoer. I would not hesitate to recommend this film as a ‘worthy watch’.

Prasanna Jayakody must be congratulated for this commendable work.