Sri Lanka, a country thoroughly devastated by civil war that lasted for 27 years and took the lives of more than tens of thousands of people, is still undergoing massive changes in order to get the country on its feet once again. The social aftermath of the war is entirely reflected in the lives of regular civilians, who suffered the most during this turbulent period in their nation's history. Struggling to recover, the two feuding ethnic groups - The Sinhalese and the Tamils - are now meant to do the impossible, namely try to reconcile and live peacefully with each other on the basis of equality and mutual understanding.
Prasanna Vithanage's With You, Without You tells the story of two people born and raised in the aforementioned opposing environments, where religion and culture has always conveyed distinct feelings. Sarathsiri (Shyam Fernando) is a middle-aged Sinhalese pawnshop owner, whose life changes completely when a beautiful, shy young Tamil refugee Selvi (Anjali Patil) starts visiting his place of work day after day. Although hesitant at first, he decides to track her down and, finding out that she's about to be wed for money to an aging man, Sarathsiri confronts Selvi in order to ask for her hand in marriage. Realizing that it's the only chance to be saved from an unhappy future she accepts and soon moves into the house of her liberator.
A strangely claustrophobic feel pervades the air as the couple tries to put their differences aside within a relationship that's difficult, toxic and full of mistrust. Sarathsiri's restrained behavior comes as a surprise to a woman who, after a past spent in fear and insecurity, is finally attempting to experience the true meaning of love. Though the man tries to make Selvi feel somewhat comfortable in this completely new situation the fact that he doesn't want to get to know his wife seems really suspicious. Hiding in a fictional world of televised wrestling Sarathsiri neglects an enormous need for emotional attachment that's burning inside Selvi's fragile heart.
In the story's meaningful and exploratory turning point the protagonist's past comes back to haunt him in the form of an old friend who arrives at his door unexpectedly and reveals a carefully kept dark secret. Sarathsiri must come face to face with his own sins and with the woman, whose deepest beliefs and sense of harmony has been challenged. In a matter of days she begins to loose her mind, unable to cope with the horrifying truth about a person she grew so fond of.
Selvi in her weakening, hallucinatory state exposes the most powerful side of Anjali Patil's spellbinding performance. Her character goes through a series of transformations, from a quiet girl, to a joyful wife, to an emotionally unstable woman and Patil presents all those stages in a consequent and balanced manner. The process is splendidly visible in her eyes, which in the end look so lifeless that the sight gives genuine shivers.
With You, Without You
works flawlessly as a serious political allegory of an ongoing tense situation in Sri Lanka. Through the struggle of a couple trying to confront a terrible past the film presents a strenuous struggle of the whole country after the end of the civil war in 2009. The picture's great strength comes from a tightly paced, deeply dramatic script that's full of many revealing details, characters whose feelings are truly perceptible, and an evocative cinematography that makes mountain-blue the color of unfulfilled love.
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