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Brick Lane

2008-11-04 09:13
What it's about:

Brick Lane tells the story of Nazneen (Tannishta Chatterjee) – a Bangladeshi girl who is married off to a middle-aged man and taken to London where she misses her sister and the rice fields of her village. Three children and one torrid love affair later she is forced to confront her yearning for home, and her passive attitude towards her fate.

What we thought of it:

Sarah Gavron may be an award-winning director of short films, but she struggles to keep rhythm in longer forms, if her first theatrical feature film is anything to go by. It's a pity. The novel "Brick Lane" garnered much attention, accolades and even the requisite angry protests from the minority who felt they'd been misrepresented.

You'll find some joy in the lovely cinematography. Scintillating shots of wide rivers and green fields in the village contrast starkly with the mindless grey of London high-rise flats, and the imagery tells the story better than the characters do. Unfortunately, it's the characters we depend on for some idea of where we are throughout the movie and the answer is too often a vague "I don't know".

Nazneen vacillates between staying and going back home while she piously tiptoes around a cramped apartment and her husband Chanu (Satish Kaushik). Kaushik does an excellent job of being every bit as annoying as writer Monica Ali intended his character to be.

There are some beautifully constructed moments and certain scenes from the book are well captured. But as is often the case with books turned into films, too much is crammed into too small a space. Omitting chunks of the book may have angered the purists but would've made for a cleaner narrative.

But there are other things to keep you hooked. Chatterjee has a luminous beauty which grows on you and she's a pleasure to watch – if only to catch the rare moments where her character smiles. First-time actress, 14-year-old Naeema Begum, delivers a surprisingly charged performance as Shahana.

Part of the problem is that the original plot, as told in the book, is similarly averse to typically happy endings and traditional narratives. But while it works in the longer and denser form of prose, it struggles in the medium of film that does require a little more action.

The poignancy the filmmakers were going for is ultimately lost as you realise that, like the characters, this film plans great things but eventually doesn't get very far.

- Verashni Pillay

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Whoever decided the label 'art house film' justified a complete lack of pace should be shot. Beautifully filmed, but at a stuttering pace, this adaptation of Monica Ali's bestselling novel of the same name is more frustrating than titillating.

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