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1 item from 2004

Mansion by the Lake (Wekanda Walauwa)

9 July 2004 | The Hollywood Reporter - Movie News | See recent The Hollywood Reporter - Movie News news »

Out of Competition

CANNES -- Lester James Peries' "Mansion by the Lake" was one of two official selection films here inspired by Anton Chekhov plays. Peries, considered the father of Sri Lankan cinema, has transferred certain themes and characters from Chekhov's "The Cherry Orchard" into a Sinhalese social drama. The trauma of change and its strains on a once-wealthy family apply as well to a Sri Lankan family in the 1980s as to aristocrats in 1905 Russia. As a cinematic window onto a seldom-seen corner of the world, and as a quietly effective mood piece, "Mansion by the Lake", which screened Out of Competition, makes a perfect film festival movie. Any North American distribution, though, would be highly limited to older adults.

The 84-year-old director has made 18 films in a career stretching back to 1956. So it is somewhat surprising to encounter problems throughout the movie with exposition and repetition of information. These should have been licked at the screenplay stage. (In French fashion, writing credit gets divided between Peries for scenario and Somaweera Senanayaka for dialogue.) There also are minor irritants like a ring of keys carried by the mansion's caretaker that clatter away through dialogue passages. OK, we understand these keys are symbolic, but must they be such noisy symbols?

After several years in London, the widow Sujata Rajasuriya (Malini Fonseka) and her teenage daughter Aruni (Paboda Sandeepani) return to the family estate in Sri Lanka. Her adopted sister Sita (Vasanthi Chaturani), the keeper of those keys, has looked after the place while their brother Gunapala (Sanath Gunatileke) enjoys his life without ever dreaming of working or making something of himself.

The home's idyllic setting, a leftover from colonial days majestically overlooking a placid lake, proves illusory. The family is up to its eyeballs in debt, and the bank threatens to auction the property.

The widow and her brother turn to several possible saviors: Lucas (Ravindra Randeniya), the crafty son of a former tenant farmer, now a millionaire businessman; batty old Aunt Catherine (Iranganie Serasinghe), who lives alone with her even more daffy servant; and a lawyer, who can only shake his head. The family's way of life appears doomed.

Sujata also must confront ghosts, notably those of her late husband and, most traumatically, a son who died in the lake as a young boy. What provokes dreams about her son is the sudden appearance of his old tutor, Kirthie Bandara (Senaka Wijesinghe), now a radical student determined to shake the tree on which the old aristocracy so precariously perch. Kirthie means to be an instrument of the demise of the old world of privilege and caste despite the knowledge that the police are looking for him.

"Mansion by the Lake" is slow going at times, but when characters speak from the heart, the movie achieves a poignancy that helps us to understand the pain that social change produces. In the case of this now-downtrodden family, they face not change but a realization that they are already dead, that they are themselves ghosts.

Peries views their situation with touching ambivalence. Clearly, he is drawn to some aspects of the old ways, which he himself must have witnessed earlier in his life. Yet he recognizes how anachronistic the family has become and how characters are more comic than tragic. There is much wisdom in this film.

Veteran Fonseka manages to project an odd combination of tranquility and anxiety, while Chaturani is particularly fine as the one family member who never quite felt she belonged.

With the mansion's canopied beds, serene paintings and trim gracefully offsetting the white walls, we sense a world of order and privilege. A final sequence in which two bulldozers appear can't help but make one shudder.


Taprobane Pictures


Director: Lester James Peries

Screenwriters: Somaweera Senanayaka, Lester James Peries

Producers: Chandran Rutnam, Asoka Perera

Director of photography: K.A. Dharmasena

Production designesr: Sumitra Peries, Mani Mendis

Music: Pradeep Ratnayake

Editor: Gladwin Fernando


Sujata Rajasuriya: Malini Fonseka

Sita: Vasanthi Chaturani

Gunapala: Sanath Gunatileke

Aruni: Paboda Sandeepani

Lucas: Ravindra Randeniya

Aunt Catherine: Iranganie Serasinghe

Kirthie Bandara: Senaka Wijesinghe

Running time -- 118 minutes

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1 item from 2004

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