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Brick Lane

Director: Sarah Gavron
Cast: Tannishtha Chatterjee, Satish Kaushik, Christopher Simpson, Naeema Begum

(Sony Pictures Classics; US DVD: 13 Jan 2009)

Review [20.Jun.2008]
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Brick Lane

Monica Ali

(Simon & Schuster)

Brick Lane starts off in Bangladesh with vibrant colors, blushing landscapes and dense vegetation gracefully deployed on screen. There is a scent of nostalgia already impregnated in the first few scenes, directly contrasting with smiles constantly glowing in the children’s face. The viewer can immediately notice that something is going to be wrong, that the constant happiness of childhood is never lasting. Then we meet Nazneen (played by the reserved yet wonderful Tannishtha Chatterjee), who’s destiny will be soon drastically changed.

Compared to the effervescent Bangladesh we were just introduced to, the London flat in which the movie leads us is claustrophobic, dreary and colorless. Nevertheless, this is where Nazneen is now confined, with her grotesque husband (Satish Kaushik) and their two children. It’s her journey we are following as she looses herself in an occidental society she doesn’t really understand but that she will learn how to tame with the help of a young Bengali, Karim (Christopher Simpson).

This is beautifully filmed with parallels between Nazneen’s life in London and her childhood in Bangladesh. Direct oppositions are constantly made between Nazneen’s two worlds and this helps increase our perception of what she is actually going through. This storytelling method gives us more insights into Nazneen’s character; her steady melancholy, her difficult uprooting and her sturdy desire to go return to her homeland.

The director Sarah Gavron did a nice job of telling a lot with the use of images and colors instead of words. Without a doubt, it is the aesthetic that saves the film from falling into another Bollywood type of story, because some of the narrative plot resembles what the gigantic Indian film industry is known to produce, contrary to the polished and well-composed images indicate. The entire movie, thankfully, does not fall into the “Indian romantic” (in that case “Bengali romantic”) category, but there are notable traces, some clichés and other over-explored emotions here and there that we could live without. 

For example, the film is set in a post 9/11 era, but it explores only briefly the political background and only slightly depicts racism against Muslims and Arabs. The film’s energy is concentrated around Nazneen’s emotional evolution. Maybe that’s a good thing, since it spares the film unnecessary heaviness, but that approach also denies the movie some significance. Gavron tried to balance the two and I think she succeeded in some parts but not enough to create a memorable movie with an actual reflection on the cultural and political tensions present in this particular time.

On the other hand, the casting is flawless. Bengali actress Tannishtha Chatterjee plays the reserved and mysterious Nazneen. With her exotic and puzzling beauty, she draws an interesting portrait of Nazneen. She speaks easily with her eyes, her body, and her overall image – indeed with everything except her actual lips.

The podgy husband is played by Satish Kaushik ,who renders his role with tenderness and optimism. It’s hard to see him as the bad guy who snatched Nazneen from the perfect world of her childhood because he seems so fragile and distracted. As for the young Karim, Christopher Simpson plays him with certain violence and assured passion. His confidence draws us into his character as he slowly evolves into a more radical version of the handsome young man we were first introduced to.

The extras are complete and insightful. Some scenes are analysed by the director and the producer, lending more depth to the story.  There are the usual deleted scenes and short documentary about the movie. Overall, I would say the “making of” is a useful tool for understanding the story and for making parallels between the novel, by Monica Ali, and this film adaptation.


Extras rating:

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5 Aug 2009
Ali is a talented writer, working with a fascinating list of ingredients. But her final product is, quite simply, over seasoned and undercooked.
19 Jun 2008
In Brick Lane's London, Nazneen is confined by a series of small rooms and doorways, narrow streets and muted colors.
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