Monday, August 22, 2016

Dark in the White Light (Vimukthi Jayasundara, 2015)

Dark in the White Light

Dark in the White Light has something to do with death. Three men—a surgeon, an organ dealer, and a student—suffer and wander in the jungles of Sri Lanka. They are stark characters—mere figures in fact—in this contemplative and horrifying meditation on life, death, and the state between the two.

Dark in the White Light competed in the main slate at the 2015 Locarno Film Festival. Jayasundara rose to prominence when he won the Camera d’Or at Cannes for his first feature, The Forsaken Land (2005). Ever since then, he has been a staple of the festival circuit. Judging from Dark in the White Light, I can see why. The film uses long shot, long takes, the stock-in-trade of art house cinema. Jayasundara stands out by enlivening this default aesthetic. In bold shots, Jayasundara shows his knowledge of space and spatial relations, often staging action in the background. These shots draw attention to bodies that are raped, stabbed, hanged, burned, and beaten. By focusing on body trauma, Dark in the White Light threatens to become an art house miserablist film. It says little about violence, but shows a lot of it. A young Buddhist monk learns of an ever-present “Lord of Death.” It’s in the air. From scene to scene, you wait for death and his brother, violence, to make their inevitable appearances. Death and violence are as concrete and abstract as the film’s poetic title.

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