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SXSW Competition Title, Sri Lanka-Set ‘Ben and Suzanne,’ Unveils First Clip (EXCLUSIVE)

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Feature debutant writer-director Shaun Seneviratne has unveiled the first clip of “Ben and Suzanne, A Reunion in 4 Parts,” which will world premiere at SXSW in the narrative feature competition.

Starring Sathya Sridharan (“The Whale”) and Anastasia Olowin (“Tourists”), the film is set in Sri Lanka, the land of Seneviratne’s heritage. The actors play the characters Ben Santhanaraj and Suzanne Hopper in a romantic reunion turned unconventional adventure in a hilarious yet amorous journey across the country. 

The film boasts a diverse range of inspirations including the Comedies and Proverbs film series by Eric Rohmer, Stanley Kubrick’s “The Shining,” Ernst Lubitsch’s “The Shop Around the Corner,” John Cassavetes’ “Minnie and Moskowitz,” Leos Carax’s “The Lovers on the Bridge,” Jean-Luc Godard’s Pierrot le fou and the Miranda and Steve strand of “Sex and the City.”

On the inspiration for the film Seneviratne says, “I was in a long distance relationship in 2009. I visited her on holiday in India. Things were out of sync. Had a wild, perspective-shifting experience. Learned a lot and grew a lot. Felt compelled to explore this story and the many ideas it stoked within (about relationships, love, intimacy, loneliness, isolation, globalization, identity, and tourism). A lot of movie relationships feel dishonest to me and I wanted to make something that felt real, with no character in the wrong and mutually justifiable perspectives. As Jean Renoir wrote, ‘Everybody has their reasons.’”

The filmmaker provides a condensed history of making the film, which took 14 years, 16 drafts of the script – always starting from scratch – and three short films exploring the idea with Sridharan and Olowin. During the process he found love, put his life’s savings and raised money from his community. “A full time job, a strike, a SAG interim agreement, 17 production days across Sri Lanka with a scriptment (some scenes scripted, some scenes treatment), great friends and collaborators, belief in what we were doing, growth every step of the way,” Seneviratne said.

“Beyond the story, it’s how that story is conveyed through sound and image that was paramount to me. I wanted it to feel like a fictionalized documentary sitcom, that these characters were people that exist in the actual world and we were simply observing them, moment to moment,” Seneviratne explains. “Beyond our two leads, everyone else were non-professionals, made up of my family and people we met along the way. In our approach, we emphasized blocking and masters over coverage, filmed on location with Sri Lankan crew, mixed film and digital formats, and edited elliptically. The sound approach is naturalistic and stays true to the source they were recorded from. With the score we experimented with classic Sri Lankan pop songs, tabla rhythms, tanpura drone, emo, and ironic/melodramatic saxophone pop.”

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SXSW takes place March 8-16 in Austin.

Watch the clip here:

Source: Variety

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