‘The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida’ by Shehan Karunatilaka

Mordantly funny, brimming with pathos, The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida looks to explore and expose the carnage of Sri Lanka’s civil wars – and identify the killers of acclaimed war photographer, Maali Almeida.

But this is no grim realism of a novel. Almeida himself is our narrator and, in finding himself, in 1990, in the afterlife bureaucratic waiting rooms awaiting his fate, discovers he has just seven moons left before his eternal fate is determined. He is dead for real and not, as Almeida first suspected, simply hallucinating from pills taken. This high-stakes gambler, gay man and atheist has been murdered by some faction or high ranking official. His dismembered body is, with so many other victims of the wars, sinking in the Beira Lake.

Those seven moons must be used wisely to identify his killers, contact the man (DD) and woman (Jaki) he loves most to help them find his body and to lead them to a hidden cache of photos that will expose the highest levels of corruption. Only there’s plenty of threatening distractions, lost souls and violent spirits getting in the way, as well as time needed to find out exactly what he can and cannot do as a dead body.

Described as part ghost story, part whodunnit, part political satire, The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida, set in the In Between before proceeding toward The Light seven days later when the Tigers, the Army, the Indian peacekeepers, the JVP terrorists and state death squads were all killing each other at a prolific rate. A time of curfews, bombs, assassinations, abductions and mass graves, the afterlife offices are busy: bloodied activists, politicians, intellectuals, journalists mingle with civilians and the military minus arms, legs. The waiting room is not for the faint-hearted.

Embroiled in afterlife red tape, mirroring his friends’ attempts to discover his whereabouts (not helped by the hedonistic lifestyle enjoyed by the photographer before his demise), Almeida reflects on personal memories of war, the photographs he took, his own moral and ethical dilemmas as well as an awkward relationship with his mother. Jaki was seen by many as his official girlfriend yet DD, son of a government minister, was the love of his life – even if he constantly cheated.

It’s a frenetic novel that is incisive, frustrating, funny, confusing. Karunatilaka’s prose is informal, jagged and, in content if not style, he channels George Saunders’ Lincoln in the Bardo and The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold. A refreshing sophomore novel, The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida unexpectedly won the 2022 Booker Prize, lauded by the judges for its ambition in scope and the hilarious audacity of its narrative techniques.


Intense yet controlled, this compelling award-winning Serbian film (Special Jury Prize at Sundance) from director Srdan Golubovic (Father, The Trap) looks to the open wounds that remain years after the violent break-up of Yugoslavia.

An altercation in the town square leaves one man dead. More than a decade later, Marko is still deeply mourned by his father (Aleksandar Bercek – Professor Kosta Vujic’s Hat, Noz). Seemingly separate narratives unfold – a car accident victim is rushed into a Belgrade hospital; Haris (Leon Lucev – The Load, Men Don’t Cry), now living in Germany, is compelled to help a woman hiding from her violent husband; Aleksander Bercek refuses to give Bogdan (Nikola Rakocevic – Travelator, Father) work.

As ripples form when an object hits water, so Circles sees the continued repercussions of that one tragic moment. Emotionally conflicted, characters within this exceptionally crafted narrative struggle. Silences are captured, glances frozen. A powerful script and haunting soundtrack (Mario Schneider – Father, The Trap) add nuanced subtly to a deeply moving, mournful complexity.

Rating: 89%

‘Outside the Wire’

An age-old storyline of government destabilisation, civil unrest, the rise of warlords and arms sales, the threat to the status quo. It’s twenty years hence and an inexperienced combatant, punished for ignoring orders as a drone pilot, finds himself in a war zone as part of the American peace-keeping corps in the Ukraine. He’s partnered with Anthony Mackie (The Banker, The Avengers), a top-secret android officer out to stop a nuclear attack on the US.

It’s all predictable but also problematic – the morally challenged Damson Idris (Farming, The Commuter) is the story’s central protagonist yet empathy stays with Mackie’s struggles. Director Mikael Håfström (1408, Escape) misses the point, the result being a mess of shoot outs, shoot outs – and more shoot outs. Tedious boredom.

Rating: 34%


A compassionate tour-de-force set in post-Civil War Lebanon, Capernaum is a narrative of lost hope, poverty and sorrow. With its mostly non-professional cast, it’s a raw and emotional telling.

Twelve year-old Zain, serving five years imprisonment for attacking his brother-in-law, sues his parents for a lifetime of neglect. It’s a tragic story of a sassy, streetwise survivor and the people he meets – Ethiopian migrant worker Rahil in particular.

Zain al-Rafeea as the boy is extraordinary and his relationship with Rahil (Yordonas Shiferaw) and her baby son is absorbing and deeply moving. It’s no wonder the film received a 15-minute standing ovation at the 2018 Cannes Film Festival (and collected the Grand Jury Prize). It also won the Audience Award at the 2018 Melbourne International Film Festival.

In only her third feature, writer/director Nadine Labaki (Caramel, Where Do We Go Now?) is proving to be one of the most consistent filmmakers in the Middle East.

Nominated for the 2019 Best Foreign Language Oscar.

Rating: 88%


2017_Panorama_INSYRIATED_02_286Intense, claustrophobic, gripping – a middle-class Syrian family are barricaded in their second-floor Damascus apartment as the civil war rages around them.

Every sound and movement outside the apartment is enough to cause panic. With her husband unreachable somewhere in the city,  a deeply impressive Hiam Abbass (Lemon Tree, The Visitor) controls the household, consisting of her three children, father-in-law, the boyfriend of one of the daughters, the maid and a young couple with their baby, displaced from a top floor apartment in the building.

Director Philippe Van Leeuw (The Day God Walked Away) poses pertinent questions in light of extreme situations and limitations of reason and emotion as the family look to survive.

Screened in the Melbourne International Film Festival.

Rating: 83%


Tangerines_filmCharming albeit naive and innocent – enemies may come to understand each other in isolation but the world outside cannot be ignored.

Short-listed for the 2014 Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film (Estonia’s first), Tangerines is gently paced with lots of wry humour. And, at its core, is the beautifully nuanced performance by 68 year-old Lembit Ulfsak, a local legend and the voice of Manny the Mammoth in the Estonian version of Ice Age!

Rating: 66%