Vimukthi Jayasundara’s stunning second film.
Sri Lankan director Vimukthi Jayasundara won plaudits for his feature debut, The Forsaken Land (including winning the Camera d’Or at Cannes in 2005). That remarkably pessimistic film told the story of Sri Lanka’s devastasting civil war through a lens influenced by the likes of Tsai Ming-Liang and Miklós Jancsó. His second film, Between Two Worlds, bears the imprint of Thai wunderkind Apichatpong Weerasethakul through its elusive blending of mythology, stunning imagery, and an obtuse narrative. Despite all these comparisons to other filmmakers though, it’s clear from the outset of this brilliant film that Jayasundara is transforming himself into a compelling auteur, one who has the potential to become a master.
Between Two Worlds is almost as pessimistic as The Forsaken Land, and follows a Teorema-esque protagonist, Rajith, drifting through the stricken landscape of modern day Sri Lanka. While he’s a thoroughly dislikeable figure, Rajith serves as an empty vessel into which the woes of Sri Lankan history pour. The protagonist may be from the past—a tale told by two fishermen refers to a young prince who’s forced to hide in a treetrunk in medieval Sri Lanka to escape from the uncles whom he had been prophesised to kill (the film’s opening has Rajith falling into the sea). However, his ties to contemporary figures suggest he’s a figure who is also firmly from the present—a literal embodiment of Sri Lanka’s violent past, but also a later reincarnation of this bloodshed.
Jayasundara draws an explicit link between the medieval Sri Lankan violence (presented as a family blood-feud), and contemporary Sri Lankan conflict. The apocalyptic visions—cities imploding, Orwellian voices in the distance, casual violence—aren’t out of place given the country’s decades of civil war. Devastaingly, Jayasundara presents this violence as a continual, a horrible loop that seems to keep Sri Lankans fighting amongst themselves.
This grim point of view notwithstanding, Jayasundara is clearly in love with his country. Between Two Worlds is a film for the big screen, with gorgeous imagery delivering a brutal contrast between the physical landscape and the violence of its inhabitants. This juxtaposition is only magnified by the film being located predominantly outdoors—even the few internal shots emphasise the external world through their framing. For all his pessimism, Jayasundara places images of hope and communal behaviour within the narrative: a village rallying together to deal with poisoned water becomes a stunning dance; or the restorative, renewing powers of birth. Ultimately though, it’s the darkness of Jayasundara’s vision that dominates; the film’s endless cycle of violence a curse which leads inexorably towards apocalypse.