'The Joyous Farmer'
- Directed by Hiran Balasuriya -
Set in the drylands of Southern Sri Lanka, ‘The Joyous Farmer’ tells the tale of Ratnapala, an impoverished farmer who has given way to addictions of several kinds in order to take some kind of pleasure in life. With no immediate family to be supported by, and no perspectives at a better life, the 29-year old man doesn’t make much from cultivating the arid land that he owns, and spends what little he earns on alcohol and cigarettes. His house is equally a sight of desolation, with only a few remaining pieces of furniture constituting his entire suite of material possessions. This setting serves the particular context of this production very well, but can also serve as a point of generalization for the wider societal aspects of the southern part of the island.
Confessing his addictions to a government official, Ratnapala is given an experimental drug which would allegedly increase his performance and willingness to work. Unsurprisingly, the young man soon becomes a fan of the pills, using them for recreational rather than work-enhancing purposes, making him ultimately experience some sort of fulfilment on a purely spiritual, psychedelic side.
While not without its faults – the script could use some further refinement – ‘The Joyous Farmer’ shows plenty of initiative and originality in its chosen subject, and how it is treated throughout the film. Normal decadence is replaced by stimulation and anger, which eventually spins out of control and leads toward ecstasy. The setting subsequently splits into two plains, one of the imaginary, where Ratnapala seems himself as a well-off land owner overlooking his property from a garden chair while enjoying a beverage in the life-giving rain, and the other one being reality, where he’s lying in a hole somewhere on his dry, lifeless land. The metaphor of digging his own grave is quite expressive within this context, as is the stark contrast between his reality and the trance-induced dreamland that Ratnapala’s subconscious has crafted.
Hiran Balasuriya’s production is a great success, thanks in no little measure to Arun Welandawe-Prematilleke’s fantastic performance. The cinematography and soundtrack blend perfectly with the film’s metaphor-riddled messages, and together ensure that ‘The Joyous Farmer’ is a remarkable achievement.