Friday, July 4, 2008

Brick Lane review

My review of Brick Lane appears in this week's WestEnder. Pick up a copy of WE if you can!

Brick Lane
By Andrea Warner
Three stars

Brick Lane, based on the best-selling novel by Monica Ali, is a gloriously beautiful movie that should soar, but instead sags under director Sarah Gavron’s heavy hand.

Nazneen (Tannishtha Chatterjee) is just 17 when, following her mother's suicide, she’s sent away from her village in Bangladesh to London as part of an arranged marriage to a man twice her age. Flash-forward sixteen years and she’s still trying to make sense of her life, living in a cramped East End flat with her teenage daughters (one mutinous, one angelic) and her husband, Chanu (Satish Kaushik) — at best a Bengali Cliff Claven — who alternates between buffoon and bastard. Nazneen lives vicariously through her sister’s letters, desperate to return home and feel whole again.

Enter the handsome stranger, the young Karim, who delivers the garments Nazneen sews at home for money. A few shy glances from under her headscarf and a full on romance begins to bloom, against the backdrop of racial tension permeating London's streets and the world since 9/11. Karim’s youthful impulse leaves him vulnerable to the radical Muslim uprising, whereas Chanu becomes the surprising lone voice of reason. The problem is that Gavron initially plays up Chanu’s character defects so wholeheartedly, it makes it almost impossible to reconcile Nazneen’s renewed devotion to her husband and the film’s emotional end.

Brick Lane is a beautiful study in contrasts, textures, and color. Where London is sterile and drab (old buildings and nosy neighbours who live in boxes stacked like blocks of Lego), Bangladesh looks lush and vibrant through the soft lens of memory, childhood, and longing. Pretty to look at, Brick Lane is merely a melodrama masquerading as a story of female empowerment. Stare too long and the flaws become all too apparent.

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