Sri Lanka's Submission for Best Foreign Language Film (Academy Award)

Sri LankaLester James Peries' "Mansion by the Lake". Courtesy of

French audiences welcome Lester James Peries' latest after his two-decade hiatus.

By Chau Nguyen

Mansion by the Lake
Running Time: 106 minutes

Producer: Chandran Rutnam, Asoka Perera
Director: Lester James Peries
Writer: Lester James Peries
Art Director: Mani Mendis
Cinematographer: K.A. Dharmasena
Costume Designer: Sam Perera
Editor: Gladwin Fernando
Sound Mixer: Arun Bose
Music Composer: Pradeep Ratnayake
Cast: Malini Fonseka, Vasanthi Chaturani, Paboda Sandeepani, Ravindra Randeniya, Sanath Gunatileke, Lucky Dias
Production Company: Taprobane Pictures (PVT) LTD
Premiere Date: September 22, 2003
Country: Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka for the first time ever, Lester James Peries' Mansion by the Lake (Wekanda Walauwa), the screen adaptation of Anton Chekhov's play “The Cherry Orchard," will be vying for the much coveted award of Best Foreign Language Film at this year's Academy Awards.


Set in the 1980s, the movie is about Sujatha Rajasuriya (Malini Fonseka) and her teenage daughter Aruni (Paboda Sandeepani). After spending five years living abroad in London, the two return to their mansion by the lake in Sri Lanka, where Sujatha's sister, Sita (Vasanthi Chaturani), is awaiting them. Mother and daughter are rejoined, but memories of grief still haunt Sujatha as she recalls the accidental death of her young son in the lake. During a trip to the bank, Sujatha discovers that the family may lose the mansion because of five years of unpaid loans. The family seeks help from Lucas, the son of a worker who was formerly employed by the Rajasuriya's and now a successful businessman, who agrees to buy the mansion. But the family soon learns they have to protect the mansion from Lucas because he wants to demolish it after he buys it. This movie details the struggle of three women as they desperately attempt to hold onto a mansion that symbolizes the splendor of a bygone era and represents their ancient family dynasty.


The Director

Eighty-four year old Lester James Peries is internationally recognized as one of the world's greatest film directors and considered the father of Sri Lankan cinema. His first big success came with Gamperaliya (The Changing Village, 1963) which won the Grand Prix (Golden Peacock) at the International Film Festival of India in 1965. Since then he has made over 20 feature films including Nidhanaya (The Treasure, 1970), and Kaliyugaya (The Age of Kali, 1983). A member of the Legion of Honour (
Republic of France), he received the Lifetime Achievement Award at the International Film Festival of India in January 2000. Most recently, he received UNESCO's Fellini Gold Medal at the Cannes Festival alongside Clint Eastwood in May 2003.


“Mansion by the Lake” marked the return of the filmmaker after an absence of nearly two decades. It was originally released on September 22, 2003. The film has gained notable success, appearing in numerous festivals including Fukuoka Asian, Cannes, La Rochelle, Edinburgh, New York, and Cairo.


It may be too early to know how well the film will fare with American audiences, but it was considered a hit among the French, where it was hailed as the first Sinhala film to have a general release in France, thanks to the production of the acclaimed director and the award winning producers Chandran Rutnam and Asoka Perera.

Sri Lanka's Film Industry
Peries' nomination and possible win will give the Sri Lankan film industry a much needed boost as well as international recognition, since it has been suffering through a decline since the late 1980s continuing through the 1990s. This was attributed to the over-production of poor quality films and the restrictive policies of the NFC (National Film Corporation). However, the past few years have shown some improvement with an emergence of talented filmmakers such as Prasanna Vithanage, Sudath Devapriya, and Boodie Keerthisena. Furthermore, the NFC's monopoly was put to a stop with the liberalization of the film industry in January 2000.


For more information about Mansion by the Lake, please visit (French).

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Published: Friday, January 23, 2004