NYIFF 2017 Film Review “Red Butterfly Dream” 1



First, the Recap:

Arrival. When applied to the search for answers to questions we’ve carried inside for far too long, it becomes a key word, a point of focus, that is engaged once the journey for discovery is initiated. However, what we end up with may not be at all what was anticipated. Coming from Jaffna to the city of Colombo, one such traveler named Raajini (Niranjani Shanmugaraja) timidly takes in her surroundings, a stranger in a once war-torn area impossible to visit. She seeks word about her sister Rekha, a member of the L.T.T.E. during days of conflict. Hesitantly connecting with a local man named Samantha (Dharmapriya Dias), Raajini is transported to his friend Ajith’s (Shyam Fernando) residence to stay.

Despite her uncomfortable situation being amongst strangers, Raajini makes every attempt to clearly describe her intentions in locating her missing sister. However, unbeknownst to her, Ajith is a contract killer who has his own agenda for her being cooked up at the prompting of his Uncle (Mahendra Perera), a rather unhinged and cunning preacher to the shrine of the gods who believes the girl is an answer to a prophetic message based on traits she possesses. Promising Raajini her sister will be found once a specific ceremony is performed, the group embarks on a fateful excursion into the jungles of Colombo, where even as Samantha becomes Raajini’s protector, dark intentions are revealed, and two people’s fates are decided.

Next, my Mind:

For Sri Lankan writer/director Priyantha Kaluarachchi, his 86-minute independent feature film effort carries with it a personal connection, a deep significance, that became the catalyst for telling this dark drama about one Tamil girl’s search for hope and reconnection with family while visiting Colombo after 30 years of conflict between the North and South, only to find more dire adventures await her thanks to an ancient myth and those obsessed with it. A deft combination of gritty and beautiful visual delivery assists in emphasizing the narrative’s arcane underlying mood via the impoverished albeit recovering slums where Ajith and Samantha reside while also conveying the literal splendor of the Sri Lankan landscape. It’s this display of opposite visual concepts that then gets effectively mirrored via the conflicting motives being pursued by the primary characters involved, some diabolical, the others innocent. It’s a slow burn, a story that you need to bear with, potentially frustrating at times, but worth it.

Shanmugraja is endearingly vulnerable, intentionally understated, and beautifully tragic in her role as Raajini, a girl on a desperate search for not only her sister, but truthfully herself, in coming to a place so long torn apart by war. From the very first moment Raajini steps onto the streets of Colombo, the reluctant unease and shyly dejected manner she displays is honestly heartbreaking, and the journey that follows is nowhere close to bringing any sense of comfort, the only bits of solace found in faith and eventually Samantha. Dias delivers an equally adept portrayal as Raajini’s ultimate benefactor and protector Samantha, a man struggling against the whims of others more evil than he desires to ever be while also combating physical limitations that happen during the worst moments. His story is part of events that take a decidedly ominous turn, yet it becomes an awakening as well, all well played by Dias. Watching the bond grow between the two characters is solidly enacted, the chemistry very grounded.

Fernando’s well-performed role as Ajith is a harsh study in a completely amoral man, whose chosen profession and the general manner in which he conducts himself more than adequately suits him and the somber deeds he commits. His leering desire for Raajini is disturbing, more so as he’s aware of the endgame she is not throughout most of the story. All he can think about is what is gained for himself, no matter what it costs others, and this mentality comes across clearly in Fernando’s delivery. The same can also be attributed to Perera as Uncle, a highly intelligent yet greatly unsettled soul whose obsession with darker arts and devious motivations plays out in developing intensity that never promises to culminate into the results he’s invested in. This broken mentality is rendered wonderfully by Perera.

In total, with a payoff that takes a sudden but heartfelt and lightly fantastical turn to the spiritual/supernatural, “Red Butterfly Dream” may not be for the causal viewer in all truth, but more for those who can genuinely sit back and appreciate the art of storytelling via the medium of film, and who can also be willing to sustain their attention span in order to reach a worthy, even if bluntly edgier, finale.

As always, this is all for your consideration and comment.  Until next time, thank you for reading!



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