Review: Mansion by the Lake

The film’s awful sound design is trumped only by a shrill Vasanthis Chaturani’s sadistic desire to add vocal contractions to every line delivery.

Mansion by the Lake
Photo: Taprobane Pictures

Sri Lankan director Lester James Peries’s film Mansion by the Lake follows an impoverished family’s attempts to reclaim the country estate they left behind when they moved to England. They stand to lose their manse if they can’t raise the money to pay the local bank five year’s worth of back interest. A series of catatonic melodramas quickly ensue: the widower Sujatha (Malini Fonseka) grapples with the ghost of the son that drowned in the watery graveyard of the film’s title; her brother Sita (Vasanthis Chaturani) tries to figure out if former manservant Lucas (Ravindra Randeniya) is trying to screw them out of their property; and daughter Sita (Vasanthi Chaturani) falls in love with her dead brother’s former tutor, political activist Kirthi Bandara (Senaka Wijestinghe). The characters in this unspeakably boring soap opera have a way of speaking the story’s Big Themes using frequent summarizing speechs (for example: “I come from the oppressed!”). Things get more interesting when Peries summons a war between the past and the present and tightens the caste system’s noose around the characters’ preservationist necks, but Satyajit Ray used to evoke these already tired class struggles and familial upheavals with a lot more passion and stylistic pizzazz. The film’s awful sound design (even when the actors are tiptoeing on a carpet, the accompanying sound suggests a football player running down a flight of stairs) is trumped only by a shrill Chaturani’s sadistic desire to add vocal contractions to every line delivery.

 Cast: Malini Fonseka, Wasanthi Chathurani, Sanath Gunatillake, Paboda Sandeepani, Ravindra Randeniya, Iranganie Serasinghe, Asoka Rodrigo, Nuwangi Liyanage, Ranjit Rubasinghe, Elson Divituragama, Lucky Dias  Director: Lester James Peries  Screenwriter: Lester James Peries  Running Time: 106 min  Rating: NR  Year: 2003

Ed Gonzalez

Ed Gonzalez is the co-founder of Slant Magazine. His writing has also appeared in The Village Voice and The Los Angeles Times. He’s a member of the New York Film Critics Circle, the Critics Choice Association, and the Latino Entertainment Journalists Association.

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