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From ‘A Gentle Creature’ to ‘With You, Without You’

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By Harsha Gunasena

This is not a critique of a film but I would like to pen down my feelings after viewing ‘With You, Without You’, the one hour and 30 minute film directed by Prasanna Vithanage.

Lead roles were played by Anjali Patil and Shyam Fernando. The script was adapted from a short story ‘A Gentle Creature’ by Fyodor Dostoyevsky (1821-1881) one of the greatest novelists the world ever produced. This was adapted to films in several other occasions by renowned directors including Robert Bresson and Mani Kaul from France and India respectively. Untitled-3.jpgsdg

Dostoyevsky’s story was narrated by an owner of a pawnshop. A young girl, an orphan, raised by her aunts, was a frequent visitor to the pawnshop. When her aunts tried to get her married to an old man the pawnshop owner countered this with his own proposal. The girl decides to marry the narrator after some deliberation. The expectations of the wife clashed with that of the husband since he wanted to save money and buy an estate which led to a miserly way of life. 

After an argument about the way the pawnshop should be run, the wife started to make a habit of leaving during the day, and later it was discovered that she was visiting Efimovich, a member of the narrator’s former regiment. The narrator’s wife eventually confronts the narrator with the details that she learned from Efimovich: details about the narrator’s shameful departure from his regiment as a result of refusing a duel with a rival. The narrator explained that it was not necessary to enter into a duel. Hence he did not succumb to the pressure to do so and departed. 

However, his wife continued her visits to Efimovich. Once, the narrator followed his wife to Efimovich, bringing a revolver. He listened to a verbal duel between his wife and Efimovich, where she refused his advances. Eventually he came in and took his wife. The following morning, the narrator opened his eyes to see his wife standing over him with the revolver pointed at his temple. He simply closed his eyes again and he was convinced that he conquered her with his readiness to accept death which proved that he was not a coward as believed by her. She did not shoot and the narrator bought her a separate bed that day. That same day, she becomes ill.

She recovered slowly. Throughout the entire winter the narrator watched his wife secretively. Once she began to sing in his presence and the narrator was shaken up. Thereafter he kissed his wife’s feet and promised to be a changed man. He recounted the story of his shame in the regiment and he promised to take her on a trip. Several days later, the narrator left the house to make arrangements for passports. When the narrator returned home, he realised that his wife had committed suicide. The turning point of the mentality of the wife was the point he kissed her feet. This is how Dostoyevsky described it as translated by Constance Garnett. “Everything within me seemed quivering and I simply fell down at her feet. Yes, I grovelled at her feet. She jumped up quickly, but I held her forcibly by both hands.” 

Dostoyevsky in several instances arranged his characters to kiss the feet of other characters. In Crime and Punishment, one of the best novels ever written, Rodion Raskolnikov the student who killed the old pawnbroker lady worshiped Sonia who sold herself for the benefit of her family. 



As described by Dostoyevsky

This is how it was described by Dostoyevsky as translated by Constance Garnett: 

“Five minutes passed. He still paced up and down the room in silence, not looking at her. At last he went up to her; his eyes glittered. He put his two hands on her shoulders and looked straight into her tearful face. His eyes were hard, feverish and piercing, his lips were twitching. All at once he bent down quickly and dropping to the ground, kissed her foot. Sonia drew back from him as from a madman. And certainly he looked like a madman. ‘What are you doing to me?’ she muttered, turning pale, and a sudden anguish clutched at her heart. He stood up at once.

‘I did not bow down to you, I bowed down to all the suffering of humanity,’ he said wildly and walked away to the window.”


Would-be reasons of the decision of the narrator’s wife

Dostoyevsky was the one and only novelist who bowed down to all the suffering of humanity.

Dostoyevsky described later through the narrator, the would-be reasons of the decision of the narrator’s wife as follows. (translated by Constance Garnett):

“She was frightened of my love, asked herself seriously whether to accept it or not, could not bear the question and preferred to die……. It was simply because with me she had to be honest — if she loved me, she would have had to love me altogether, and not as she would have loved the grocer. And as she was too chaste, too pure, to consent to such love as the grocer wanted she did not want to deceive me; did not want to deceive me with half love, counterfeiting love, or a quarter love.”


The main differenceStill-3

Prasanna Vithanage has adapted all the features of the story of Dostoyevsky but the main difference was the background of the two. She was a Tamil and her brothers who were school children were killed by the Army. Her parents hid her in upcountry plantations. After the end of the war she found that they were missing. She comes to know from a friend of his that her husband was in the Army. Conflict started from here. She once said had she known this she would not have married him. When he worshipped her; begged for her love and subsequently changed to a caring husband, she was in two worlds. 

Therefore Vithange’s plot was much stronger than that of Dostoyevsky especially in Sri Lankan context. By way of very limited, concise and strong dialogues the director focuses more on the expressions of the characters. Fernando and Patil have done justice to the complicated nature of the characters. The film was released at a crucial time. The newly-elected Government of Sri Lanka pledged to move on the path of reconciliation which is quite in contrast to the policy adapted by the previous government. There were reports of formation of a commission to investigate the crimes by all during war time similar to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission formed by the South African Government headed by Nelson Mandela to investigate the crimes under the apartheid regime. 

 It was reported that the United Nations Human Rights Council report on Sri Lanka would be released shortly. It was further reported that the probe team has made strong indictments against both the troops and the guerrillas over purported war crimes. 

However we should go for a domestic investigation as agreed by the former President and clearly mentioned by the Prime Minister. Mentality of the Sinhalese people should be geared to that. In that context I presume that viewing this film of Prasanna Vithanage would help all of us.

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