CEYIFF Film Review: The Newspaper
By Mahil Senathirajah
Playing at the first Ceylon International Film Festival yesterday, The Newspaper is a brilliantly rendered, utterly compelling journalist drama, with its nuanced themes relevant to the Western world in this arguably “post-truth era”. It is an archetypal hero’s odyssey of reputational redemption, based on a true story.
A Sinala man is accused of a traitorous bombing carried out on behalf of the Tamil resistance during Sri Lankan civil war. In retaliation, locals break his brother’s legs and force him to flee, with his elderly mother, to a remote village. Ten years later, Guna, sees a scrap of unattributed newspaper exonerating his brother. Guna sets out on a journey back to Colombo to seek a full retraction, with his only friend at this side and 20 rupees in his pocket. As they travel from newspaper to newspaper, the tattered news clipping a symbol of Guna’s tattered reputation, they meet indifference and class bias from the journalistic establishment which has no business interest in correcting the record.
The film hangs on the two leads, both of them Sri Lankan theater actors, and they deliver wholly believable and understated performances. The social weight of the false accusation shows in Guna’s haggard face and his painful struggle to locomote, frog-stepping using his arms to move his broken body along with a jerry-rigged cart. His psychic pain and quiet desperation are palpable.
The Newspaper also benefits from remarkably assured direction and vivid cinematography. Carefully composed shots thrust the viewer into the Colombo street-life that Guna and his friend must navigate alone together. Scenes are well structured and edited, keeping the narrative moving forward while the mid-tempo pacing deepens the audience’s empathy for the characters and their plight. The performances of the various characters they meet on their journey are also uniformly strong, from the newspaper owner who interferes with his editor to a sympathetic female reporter whose job is threatened for the help she is providing.
The tension builds as the elements the director has set in motion collide. Without giving away too much, the bracing final scenes are elegantly delivered and the resolution both satisfying and foreboding. As a newspaper editor says, “the font in the correction is never as big as the font in the headline.”
CEYIFF continues today and concludes with closing ceremonies and the supernatural thriller, “Gharasarapa”, at 5:30 pm.