The film by Jude Ratnam had its premiere at the Cannes Film Festival. I had seen it but promised not to write a review before the festival. I have now returned to the film, which made and makes a strong impression on me. Why? This is what I will try to find out with the following text.
It is always difficult to find your own tone in a documentary. To create an atmosphere, a space for the viewer where he/she can be and stay, caught by the strength of a story. Ratnam succeeds – because he uses the cinematic language in a brilliant way. There is a rythm, fine cinematography and a commentary, where Ratnam in first person expresses his feelings bringing back the horrible memories he and his family have ”etched deeply in my (their, ed.) mind”. He says so when he recalls how and when he and his parents were fleeing the capital in Sri Lanka, Colombo – he being 5 years old – in July 1983, when the war started, that suppressed the tamil population, that fled to the North; a war that took the country into terrible violence until peace was made in 2009.
It is his story, with the train going North as the metaphor, the timeline that comes back again and again. The scoop for the film is that Ratnam gets his Uncle back from Canada and into the film. He was one of the freedom fighters, who was not with the Tamil Tigers but with TELO, one of 16 militant groups against the Sinhalese. With him the film goes back in time. He goes to the village where he lived, is being recognised by Sinhalese citizens, who were hiding tamils. He goes to his friend Andrew, who says that they were fighting for a socialist revolution – contrary to what the Tigers were standing for. There are many touching moments with Manoranjan, the Uncle, who is the character through whom terrible internal fights between the groups are revealed, including a massacre on members of TELO (Tamil Eelam Liberation Organization) by the Tigers.
How did our hopes for an independent state, The Tamil Eelam, turn into such cruelty? I actually at the end wanted the Tamils to lose the war against the Sinhalese government, says Ratnam at one point with reference to these internal Tamil fights, which are talked about by not only him and the Uncle but also other Tamil fighters, who walk roads where kid were burnt alive with tyres around their bodies.
At one point you see the Uncle cutting rails into pieces as it has been done to remove the memory of horror – ”the rails that saved my life”, as Ratnam puts it. ”Be quiet, speak not in tamil language”, Ratnam’s mother told him. Today Ratnam’s son has been given a Tamil name, Nethran. Is it over? Is there a reconciliation process? Could that be the next film by Ratnam? Will he stay with themes from his country like his mentor Cambodian Rithy Panh has done?
Below you will find a Youtube link to a half hour interview with Ratnam from the Doc Day in Cannes this year.