The aesthetics of Buddhist philosophy are given a slow, richly colored work-up in small-screen helmer Prasanna Jayakody’s very un-TV-like feature debut “Sankara.” Suffused with the tension between spiritual perfection and earthly desires, this explicatory parable of a young monk’s inner battle is meticulously thought out and lensed, each scene illustrating a Buddhist precept which is then contrasted with the ineluctable power of female charms. Perhaps best appreciated by Buddhists, pic took home the Silver Pyramid in Cairo and should find receptive arms at varied fests.
Beautiful opening sets the scene as a monk (Thumindhu Dodantenna) walks through emerald-green fields to a village temple in southern Sri Lanka. Sound, of overriding importance throughout pic, is immediately prioritized as the noise of birds and the rustle of wind in the sugar cane fills the gap left by nonexistent or minimal dialogue.
The monk has come to the temple to restore ancient frescoes depicting the consequences of worldly attachments, full of sexualized female figures and the chaos left in their wake. While concentrating on his pigments, the monk hears the light tinkle of a woman’s bangles and discovers a hairpin, which he immediately fetishizes.
Mostly self-confined to rooms in the temple, the monk fantasizes about a secular alter ego (Nilupa Heenkendaarachchi), whom he projects as a paramour successfully wooing the owner of the hairpin (Sanchini Ayendra). Just when he’s finished the restoration, the frescoes are vandalized, forcing the monk to remain in the village to repair the damage.
Quietly inserted throughout the narrative are Buddhist concepts of time’s insignificance and the supreme value of life, whether directly stated by an older monk (K.A. Milton Perera) or signaled through iconic shots of local flora and fauna. Students of Buddhist thought will undoubtedly recognize multiple references that are less clearly explained, while others may tire of a slight surfeit of preciousness. Jayakody continuously contrasts these peaceful images with pans of the frescoes, depicting a jumbled world of tranquility disrupted, mirroring the turmoil within the monk’s psyche.
Temptation remains within a very subdued framework — the monk’s big liquid eyes aren’t swayed by some Whore of Babylon but by a modest if coquettish field worker whose most enticing attribute is the gentle clink of her bracelets. These scenes encapsulate Jayakody’s superb use of sound, the woman’s figure barely necessary to illustrate the temptations ably represented by the ring of her jewelry.
Though auds will be divided, few will fail to appreciate Palitha Perera’s fine lensing, in which every color is given its proper value, each object handsomely contrasted with its surroundings. Composer Nadeeka Guruge understands the importance of minimal intrusion, symbiotically matching action with the bare essentials.