Review: House of My Fathers (2018)

House of My Fathers, which competed in Busan International Film Festival and BFI London Film Festival, was recently screened in competition at the 29th Singapore International Film Festival. The film is a mesmerising and poetic debut with a magical-realist narrative by Sri Lankan filmmaker Suba Sivakumaran.

It is a political allegory of Sri Lanka, where the civil war has divided two communities: the Tamil and the Sinhala. Sworn enemies since time immemorial, both villages find their women afflicted with a curse of infertility.  

As infertility plagues the two warring Sri Lankan villages, the village chiefs are forced to confront their pasts in order to save their future.

A vision of the gods was given to the respective villages to send a Tamil woman and a Sinhala man to venture together into the Forest of the Dead. In hopes of lifting the infertility curse, a “Strange Doctor” (Steve De La Zilwa) was with them on their journey.

Venturing into the mythical forest, the trio tries to grasp and understand the various happenings at different stages.

The film offers a reading of a post-conflict society, tenderly showcasing the vulnerabilities of both Asoka, the Sinhalese man, and Ahalya, the Tamil lady, as they find themselves face-to-face with their fears.

Once a well-respected soldier, Asoka (Bimal Jayakodi) is now haunted by memories of wartime. He is revisited by his fellow soldiers who were brutally murdered, demanding to know why he was the only one spared.

Ahalya (Pradeepa), a mute lady due to the trauma of losing her son in the war, sees visions of her son at every corner. Their scars from the war are deeply etched in them, resulting in a torturous journey.

Asoka and Ahalya seek solace in each other, yet their intimacy is not of romance. And as expected, Ahalya soon becomes pregnant with Asoka’s child. Yet we are told from the start that the villages’ shamans predicted that only one of them would return. This prophecy proves to be true.

Containing traces of Alfonso Cuaron’s Children of Men, this dystopian tale offers a social commentary of the cost involved towards building a brighter future. Despite regaining her ability to speak, Ahalya faces the same cycle of having her baby taken away from her.

A thought-provoking piece, Sivakumaran ends the film with ambiguity, hinting at the possibility of a better future for this child who born to parents from rival villages. Yet the cynic in me believes that the cycle will repeat itself as humans time and time again prove to be more than capable of self-destruction.

Sivakumaran is now in the early stages of a new project, ”Children of the Atom Bomb”, a road-trip thriller set in London about refugees escaping from inhumane immigration policies.

Written by Christine Seow

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