I first met Prasanna Vithanage in 1997 at the Fribourg International Film Festival. He was presenting "Death on a Full Moon Day," and it was, for me, an aesthetic shock. I admired Prasanna Vithanage's subtle analysis of the complexity of feelings and the subtlety of his direction.
Since then, several of his films have been shown at the Vesoul International Film Festival of Asian Cinema: "Walls Within," "August Sun," "Flowers of the Sky," "With you, Without you," "Children of the Sun," where he won numerous awards: Cyclo d'Or, Jury Prize, Netpac Prize, ... I couldn't wait to see the world premiere of his latest opus, "Paradise," at the 28th Busan International Film Festival in early October 2023. Comfortably seated in an armchair at the Busan Cinema Center, I was initially taken aback by the first images, which seemed to come out of a tourist advertising clip. Very quickly, behind the travel agency clichés, the harsh reality experienced by the Sri Lankan population was revealed.
A country that declared itself bankrupt in April 2022. Prasanna Vithanage deftly chooses to tell the story of an upper-middle-class Indian tourist couple on vacation in Sri Lanka. The husband is an Indian producer, aware of his class and caste, while the wife is a journalist with a humanistic view of the world. She is the gaze of innocence on the brutality of the world. The husband seems more preoccupied with his business than discovering Sri Lanka's mystical historical sites. A cultured driver takes them from site to site. At the very start of their trip, they are attacked in their hotel room. The thieves took all the couple's audiovisual equipment. The couple went to the police station. What follows is a meticulous description of the husband's behavior: too assertive, too sure of himself, too domineering, too full of himself, confusing rigidity with rigor. In counterpoint, his wife is restrained, sensitive to the injustice that could result from a peremptory accusation. The husband's supposed identification of a group of suspects from the lumpenproletariat as the alleged thieves sets off a spiral of violence. Suspicion and unjustified brutality towards members of ethnic or religious minorities on the part of state officials fueled by class and race prejudices are analyzed with a masterly scalpel.
The contrast between the beauty of nature, the majesty of a mountain deer, and the corruption of society is striking. The lies and bestiality of human beings fuel their downfall. They create a revolt against the established order. The build-up of social tension is palpable throughout the film, right up to the fatal epilogue where innocence unwillingly becomes criminal in the face of unbearable injustice. This film is by the great Prasanna Vithanage, rightly awarded the Jiseok Award.