The Private Horrors of Sri Lankan Civil War in Flying Fish


Co-writer/director Sanjeewa Pushpakumara’s debut feature portrays the recent Sri Lankan civil war as a gauntlet of private humiliations, endured by largely nameless, barely individuated villagers—making this would-be multi-strand narrative more of an impenetrable tangle. The camera hangs back, capturing many arresting views of the landscape, but more perfunctorily observing the action around the house or at the market. The majority of Flying Fish concerns ill-fated couplings—a Sinhalese soldier and pregnant Wasana, a widowed mother of eight and a younger man with a motor scooter—that are consummated inside roofless stone structures, where the forbidden lovers are discovered by distraught relatives. (The widow’s eldest son courts a schoolgirl more chastely.) Head-in-hands agony frequently gives way to insults to the natural world, as when Wasana’s father, having just stumbled upon his daughter in the act, pulverizes a bundle of freshly caught fish with a rock. Elsewhere, various genital events compound the miseries of war: A teen has her first period on a bus pulling into an army checkpoint, and later, threatened with conscription by the Tamil Tigers, blood trickles down her leg to the porch; a late daydream by the now-abandoned Wasana imagines a sex act–turned–Mortal Kombat fatality. Such shocking eruptions hammer home Pushpakumara’s cri de coeur about the way an ongoing conflict undermines the foundation of the family, and raises the stakes of mortification, despite the story’s slack telling.