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COMPENSATION, THE (Aswesuma)(director/writer: Bennett Rathnayake; cinematographer: Channa Deshapriya; editor: Stanley de Alwis; music: Harsha Makalanda; cast: Joe Abeywickrama (Guneris), Ravindra – Randeniys (Spouse), Jackson Anthoney, Sangeetha Weerarathna, Mahendra Perera; Runtime: 112; Benn Films; 2001-Sri Lanka)
“This film deserves to be buried before it inflicts more suffering on another unsuspecting viewer.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

The Compensation is a film made in Sri Lanka and is the first theatrical feature by director and writer Bennett Rathnayake. It’s a film in search of a release. I saw it at the first Manchester Film Festival held this year on June 27th, and if this is a representative film then the festival has gone for quantity over quality in presenting more than 100 films from 24 countries in four days. This was a dreadful morality theme film about good vs. evil that was plagued by a poor quality print, subtitles that were out of focus and impossible to read as they blended in with the white background, a clunky plot, hammy acting, an emotionally overwrought melodramatic story and a script that would be better off if it were ripped up.

The film begins as we observe an old man looking gaunt as he attends the funeral of his beloved wife. His name is Guneris and he is one of the poor villagers who are exploited by their work in the sapphire mine. He walks into the rural police station and stares intently ahead into space as he’s seated on a bench and the camera focuses on the scar he has on his forehead. When an indifferent policeman finally asks what he is doing there after he has been waiting since early morning and it is now night, he insists on speaking to the officer in charge.

Guneris tells the officer that he wants to be arrested for killing three hunters in the woods 52 years ago, when the country once known as Ceylon under British rule was given its independence and became known as Sri Lanka. His story could not be told since he agreed with his wife that it would remain a secret until one of them died.

The story begins on the first day of independence for Sri Lanka. The child of Guneris is suffering from malaria and when the couple seek medication from their local doctor, who also owns the mine he works in, they are rebuffed because the doctor could care less about the child and is having sex with an English woman. The child dies the next day and when the couple go to bury him they find a large valuable gem by the graveside. When they try to sell it in town, the doctor greedily controls the gem traders in the effort to cheat him by offering a very low price. Guneris feels this gem is compensation for the loss of his child and that he can share its wealth with the villagers, while his wife believes nothing can take the place of her child and they should get rid of the gem because it’s cursed.

Guneris refuses to give up the gem and fights off thieves sent by the doctor to steal it. He decides to go with his wife to the city to get a fair price, but he’s followed by three thugs sent by the doctor. When he can’t escape he attempts to approach them and have his wife escape with the gem, but this goes wrong and he’s beaten and hung upside down on a tree overlooking a cliff and a lake. His wife refuses to leave him and is nabbed by the three thugs and raped by each while he watches in pain. The climax comes when his wife frees him and he kills the three in revenge. He then throws the valuable gem away in the water. After telling his story he wants the police to arrest him so he can be a free man. It seems goodness alone is not enough to live a full life (though I think this filmmaker thinks that’s enough, as poverty is given a saintly aura). In my humble opinion, man also needs some wisdom and an ability to be cunning to cope with the dangers in the world.

This film deserves to be buried before it inflicts more suffering onanother unsuspecting viewer. You never know, some other festival might try to pass this poorly made film off as a gem.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”