August Drizzle: Busan Film Review

Sri Lankan filmmaker Aruna Jayawardana burdens a tiny village with ill fates and tragedies that come as a flood rather than a drizzle.

Written and directed by Sri Lankan filmmaker Aruna Jayawardana, the story centers on a mortician living in a tiny village.

Death seems to be the only real business in the small Sri Lankan village at the heart of August Drizzle. The heroine of writer-director Aruna Jayawardana’s film is not only a mortician but she is involved in a undeclared war with the tiny village’s other mortician as she moves ahead with ambitious plans of build a state-of-the-art crematorium. One can see why this will fill a need though as a rogue elephant dispatches a villager frequently even as failed home remedies and that rival funeral director’s increasingly violence sends bodies to the mortuaries in a steady stream.

All of which makes August Drizzle sound like a black comedy or perhaps Sri Lankan noir. It isn’t either. Rather it’s a solemn, lugubrious meditation on fate and human desire played without a strong enough sense of character or narrative. So this is a dramatic drizzle that will fall only at film festivals.

The central role of Somalata, played by Chandani Senevirathne, is the only fully realized character in the film. All other supporting roles are thinly sketched, fulfilling functions in Somalata’s story arc but little else.

Her father has just died and her mother presses her to marry despite the fact no suitable mate seems to exist in this dusty and drab town. Of her two assistants, one has his eye on a local girl and their story makes up the film’s other tragic subplot. The architect for her crematorium is a possibility, but he is too busy swallowing pills for myriad ailments and cowering before Somalata’s rival to be a real mate. So she suppresses her desires and answers marital ads in the local paper, usually tossing away the replies.

The strongest element here, which only gradually emerges, is how those who deal with death as a daily business react when mortality strikes close to home. The film’s weaknesses though are many. This slice of village life is so thin that the film feels greatly padded with its 112-minute running time. Pacing is leisurely bordering on torpor. And the peripheral characters — the villain, a local politician and villagers who maintain a distance from the lady mortician — are near Bollywood caricatures.

You never quite understand why the villain can operate so freely since the local MP and the Buddhist monks actually back the crematorium project. Or why the architect is such a weakling and what, other than her profession, has made the heroine a virtual pariah in her own village?

The film looks at times more like a doc as it observes the making of coffins and preparation of bodies. The soundtrack isfilled with chirping crickets and wind bemoaning the fates only to erupt at odd moments with string music played at much too high a volume.

August Drizzle comes with a subtitle: Rain that never kisses the earth. Actually the melodramatic rain comes down hard at the end, but rather than the workings of fate it feels more like the heavy hand of a writer-director in search of a tragic ending.

Venue: Busan International Film Festival, New Currents
Production company: Induwara Roo
Cast: Chandani Senevirathne, Jagath Manuwarna, Bimal Jayakodi, Thumindu Dodantanna
Director/screenwriter: Aruna Jayawardana
Producer: Dr. Kusumsiri De Silva
Director of photography: Channa Deshapriya
Production/costume designer: Udeni Subodhi Kumara
Music: Nadeeka Guruge
Editor: Jeevantha Devapriya
No rating, 112 minutes