Treasure, The (1972)

A man in severe debt refuses to sell his family mansion in this deliberately-paced Sri Lankan film that deals with the inner turmoil of a person caught between misguided superstition and the prospect of personal redemption.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Review #2,593

Dir. Lester James Peries
1972 | Sri Lanka | Drama | 110 min | 1.33:1 | Sinhala & English
PG (passed clean)

Cast: Gamini Fonseka, Malini Fonseka, Francis Perera
Plot: A young aristocrat wants to save his dwindling financial resources. He hears about a treasure that can be obtained by sacrificing a virgin.
Awards: Official Selection (Venice)
Source: World Cinema Foundation

Accessibility Index
Subject Matter: Moderate – Myth & Aristocracy; Personal Turmoil
Narrative Style: Straightforward
Pace: Slightly Slow
Audience Type: Slightly Arthouse

Viewed: Oldham Theatre
Spoilers: No

Often considered one of the greatest Sri Lankan films ever made, but I’m not sure if The Treasure is really deserving of such high praise.  It’s good but not extraordinary. 

An unmarried man, Willy, who has racked up a lot of bad debt has a solution in plain sight: sell the family mansion that his late father had left him to clear all debts and still have enough to lead a new life.  However, with the protection of his family’s former glory solely in mind, he refuses to sell the property. 

While The Treasure is about a man’s somewhat debilitating attachment to a relic of the past, it is also about something else: myths and prophecies.  Throughout the film, Willy suffers from episodes of psychological torment that even manifests as a physical ailment. 

“We are all searching for someone.”

He is an unfortunate soul who is caught between misguided superstition (a subplot involves an old manuscript that promises the riches of a buried treasure that awaits anyone able to fulfil its mystic requirements) and the prospect of personal redemption through a sustained engagement with a woman after a chance encounter. 

Much of the drama plays out rather slowly with its deliberate pacing sometimes a mixed bag, though it is a product of its time.  It is not exactly a very ‘busy’ film, hence shots that slowly pan or track to some character sitting or sleeping become rather unnecessarily pronounced. 

This is unlike The Wasps Are Here (1978), the other Sri Lankan film that I’d seen fairly recently, where there is more visual interest and narrative momentum despite its similar pacing.  Nevertheless, there is a kind of morbid if elegant charm to The Treasure, as it details one man’s fall from grace when he is so close to achieving salvation. 

Grade: B+

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