By Paola Di Giuseppe | translated by Nadeesha Dilshani Uyangoda from the original italian version
What strikes the most about this story is the silence.
In his full-length feature film debut, young director Suranga Deshapriya Katugampala discloses his great fascination with the concept of cinéma d’auteur; he expresses the characters’ bewilderment of life and existence through the barren realism of images and words. And in doing so, he reveals his skilful communicative power.
A mother and her son, an elderly, disabled woman, the son’s schoolmates and the caregivers of the senior center, the over the hill neighbour who has chosen the world’s oldest profession – they are all masks in a minimalist, back-groundless mise-en-scene.
The city of Verona is a geographic pretext, therefore the interpretation of the film can’t be belittled as a story about the racist North and East Italy. Not only would that be inaccurate but also prejudicial.
The characters’ ethnicity is inconsequential since the cultural hybridisation evens out those challenges all immigrant communities face, the Sri Lankan one as well as the others.
Language barriers, issues of identity, damaged family ties, cultural gap between generations, inclusion and exclusion in alienating and alienated social models – these are interethnic topics confronting today’s post-industrial society, across the length and breadth of the world, the only exception being those countries where hunger and thirst still kill people.
The son (Julian Wejesekara), 14-years-old, with a lock of hair that hangs over his eyes, is a surlylooking teenager who doesn’t really talk to his mother, unless for his disobedient gabbling or rabid inveighing.
The mother (Kaushalya Fernando, one of the most popular actress in Sri Lanka, featured in La terre abbandonée, 2005 Caméra d’Or) is the caregiver of a disabled widow (Nella Pozzerle). The elderly woman’s adult children seldom call her, while the carer doesn’t talk to her own son at all but to instil anxiety in him, scold, blame.
Halfway between a sorrowful mother and a courageous mother, she lives her life as a uprooted person, an outsider in a country whose language she refuses to learn. The love for her son carries on her life, it is a shady relationship though, almost instinctive – like the bond between an animal and its pup, and the pup’s attachment to the mother is defined by his need and nothing else.
What lacks in their relationship is the growing, the awareness, the assumption of the responsibility. Lacking the father figure, the family is incomplete – that increases the detachment, but doesn't lessen the pain, the loss, both of their sense of sorrowful frustration.
To complete the scenario, which offers a cross-section of contemporary society, there are the elderly, disabled woman who mumbles the insistent regurgitations of a clouded mind, the boy’s peers, young misfits with dysfunctional families – concerning themselves with trifles at the moment, however, their future is easily guessed –, the sordid whore across the street who is seen while taking money from a young boy – it is unclear whether the scene triggers more pity or disgust.
It is a world where the values of the past seem to be banished. Values, such an ambiguous word and not infrequently overrated. In that world, the significance of coexistence is primordial and it is reduced to the aphasic loss of consciousness.
“Talk to me” – it is the only significant moment in which the mother is able to say the right thing to her son. Yet, her voice goes unheard, shining alone in the desert. Perhaps one day it will break the wall of isolation and find an opening in the dull cocoon we live in, like monads without doors nor windows. Do not demand from us the formula unfolding worlds before you, wrote Eugenio Montale, an Italian poet.
However, the boy, sitting at the kitchen’s table, playing games on his smartphone, while the mother is peeling potatoes, offers her a silent look – a look which is a cry for help and love, wordless, stuck in his throat, but a cry nonetheless.
And, hopefully, it is a cry he will be voicing some day.