Wasps Are Here, The (1978)

This rarely-seen Sri Lankan work about a rural community relying on fishing for survival is ripe for rediscovery as it both lyrically and hard-hittingly deals with issues of gender, changing ways of life and chronic antagonism. 

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Review #2,200

Dir. Darmasena Pathiraja
1978 | Sri Lanka | Drama | 124 mins | Sinhala
NC16 (passed clean) for some coarse language

Cast: Joe Abeywickrama, Malini Fonseka, Ruby de Mel
Plot: Set in a fishing village, the film explores tradition and exploitation as capitalism hits.
Awards: Official Selection – Cannes Classics
Source: Asian Film Archive

Accessibility Index
Subject Matter: Moderate – Exploitation, Tradition, Capitalism
Narrative Style: Slightly Complex
Pace: Slightly Slow
Audience Type: General Arthouse

Viewed: Oldham Theatre
Spoilers: No

A big congratulations to the Asian Film Archive for restoring their first South Asian film.  Selected for the Cannes Classics programme last year, The Wasps Are Here has been said to be Sri Lankan director Darmasena Pathiraja’s masterwork, and having never seen a Sri Lankan film before, this naturally became a must-watch when the opportunity to catch it on the big screen came to light. 

While Wasps is not exactly a truly revelatory work to me in the context of South Asian cinema of that period, it is definitely one that is ripe for rediscovery. 

The opening titles already suggests how the film would be like—lyrical yet realist—as an accompanying song and the captivating music (an ethnic plucked stringed instrument is prominently featured) introduce us to the beautiful if harsh rural world where its community rely on fishing for survival. 

“You don’t love the sea, nor the folk.”

Pathiraja’s direction is pretty much assured as he develops a narrative involving a man from the city who unwittingly disrupts the ‘ecosystem’ of social life, commerce, and tips the balance of power and control when he arrives in this rural town and unexpectedly falls in love. 

Wasps may have been poetically filmed (a number of its wide shots of the sea and fishermen in action do remind of, say, Ritwik Ghatak’s 1973 work, A River Called Titas), but the treatment of issues of gender, changing ways of life and chronic antagonism goes into hard-hitting territory. The undercurrents of hatred, rage and vengeance are merely waiting for a spark to explode in devastating fashion. 

The Wasps Are Here is a strong work and will be eye-opening for audiences unfamiliar with South Asian cinema.  It also features a scene of suspense involving a tall tree as tense as any in cinema.

Grade: A-



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