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This is a masterpiece of the first rank, as if Satyajit Ray had come back from the dead to do one final great work, and yet the director is a young English girl named Sarah Gavron, who will obviously go from triumph to triumph in the future. The film, the director, the script writer, the cinematographer, the editor, and the superb musical score all deserve Oscars. But most of all, so do Tannishtha Chatterjee as Best Actress and Satish Kaushik who plays her husband as Best Actor. This is one of the most devastatingly tragic and emotional films in years. My wife and I saw it in a private screening tonight, and most people were in tears. Sarah Gavron and Monica Ali the novelist both spoke about the crazy media coverage. The film has been covered by the papers in a dishonest fashion, so alarming that Prince Charles pulled out of attending the premiere. This film is the story of a woman trapped in her life, trapped in her culture, and trapped in an arranged marriage. In the beginning her husband seems to be something of monster, but by the end of the film we see that despite all of his failings, he is a truly noble character. The incredible irony is that Tannishtha Chatterjee, who by her astonishing ability and delicate sensitivity has done more to explain Muslim women to us than anyone I can think of, is herself a Hindu from West Bengal. When I told Monica Ali afterwards that this film would do more for cross-cultural understanding than anything else, she was pleased but looked doubtful. After all, the lives of the people making the film were threatened by a small minority of fanatics ('five men in a sweet shop in Brick Lane' was how it started, growing to seventy malcontents) when they were filming on location in London, and there is a false and hypocritical media storm raging around the film at the moment. It makes a good cheap headline. But we need to forget about all of that and concentrate on what this film really is: a human document of such raw honesty and true feeling that it is like a cry from the hearts of all who have suffered at any time and in any place in our troubled world. People talk about 'understanding', but how are we to achieve it? By making and viewing such films as this, I would suggest. And then there is the endless problem of women being oppressed. If you are not a woman and want to know what that is like, just watch this. The saddest thing of all is the collapse of dreams, and the story is about how the different characters bear the respective collapses of their most cherished ones and try to go on, and do.
From the opening scene of two young sisters chasing one another through a sunny field in Bangladesh (actually shot in India) to the very last poignant shot of the older sister as a mature woman looking back on her life and forward to the rest of it, I was captivated by this film. The performance of Tannishta Chatterjee as the wife is so touching that it is almost embarrassing to watch her, as if one is a Peeping Tom. Trapped in a tiny flat, and in an arranged marriage, with two teenage daughters, silently bearing the loss of her first born, a son, dreaming of her sister and family in Bangladesh and living for her sister's letters, she is detached from the world outside, alone, isolated - despite being in the midst of the Bengali community in Brick Lane, London. I accompanied her as she went out, crossed the concrete yard, did her shopping, straightened her headscarf, avoiding the white tattooed lady next door and the old Bengali widow, a debt-collector. The claustrophobic flat, piled high with daily necessities, the overwhelming presence of her husband, rather charmingly pompous, and brilliantly played by Satish Kaushik, the two depressed and bored daughters, is tangible, as is her husband's corpulent body when he rolls on top of her with wheezing breath in their depressingly small bed. Longing to earn some money so that she can fulfill her dream of returning home to visit her family, she takes on piece-work, sewing up jeans and glitzy tops, and finds herself attracted to and then having an affair with, the young British Muslim who brings the work every week. Sarah Gavron, the young British director, gets beneath the veil, beneath the skin and into the heart of this woman, delivering a portrait, not of a community, but of self-discovery and ultimately of love equalling the work of Satiyajit Ray. We should look forward to her next feature film.
This adaptation of Monica Ali's best-selling novel follows the conflicts in the little world of Nazneen, a Bangladeshi girl who leaves behind happy days playing with her sister round their village for an arranged marriage in 1980s London. At first she is almost living a life of purda within the walls of her East London council flat with her oafish middle-aged husband, fearing her life is over. Director Gavron balances intimate moments against the increasingly tense atmosphere in Brick Lane as the tightly knit community reacts to the events of 11 September 2001, and public attitudes towards Moslems or anyone who just looks 'different' afterwards. To emphasise the smallness of this community and of the family within it, many of the shots are close-up or taken through gauze, hanging clothes or glass; the camera-work is practically all steadycam, sharing rooms, balconies and stairwells with the protagonists. Struggling to play the 'good wife', Nazneen one day discovers a measure of independence in a borrowed sewing machine, which allows her to fill some of the gaps made by her husband's erratic employment; through this she collides with life again, as the clothing delivery lad Karim knocks at her door. One night, husband and wife are in front of the TV as 'Brief Encounter' is showing. On the other hand, we could just be seeing into Nazneen's head as she struggles to cope with her dilemma. As time passes, it becomes obvious that no decision she makes will be simple and easy, especially as her well-meaning but foolish husband gradually reveals himself to be a philosopher, and a man who feels pain. It's a closely observed film about closely observed lives, and probably will repay repeat viewings.
As I started watching Brick Lane my heart soared. The beauty of its
appreciation of nature (Bangladeshi scenes from the lead character's
memory) reminded me of the masterpieces of Deepa Mehta if not of
Satyajit Ray. It tells of a young girl whose father marries her off to
an educated Bangladeshi back in London. Displaced from her homeland,
her heart is full of secret sorrow until she finds herself attracted to
a man younger than her husband and much closer to her own age. From
that point she begins much soul searching, examining her own identity
and place in the world.
"For us," says director Sarah Gavron, "'Brick Lane' as a title symbolises a sanctuary to successive waves of immigrants searching for home. That search, rather than the bricks and mortar of the street, is at the heart of the story." I admit that her description helps me to have a better view of the film but I wish it had been more apparent in the footage.
A beautiful love story develops, with a subplot about resisting Islamic extremism. Yet I soon felt as if I were watching a kind of updated Jane Austen novel where the Brick Lane (East London) Bangladeshi community were used simply to provide a fresh plot device.
I read some of the adverse comments from Brick Lane spokespeople that plagued the film's opening. I didn't feel I could relate to them. I found nothing offensive in the film. Except it seemed to me somehow a curiously British portrayal of Bangladeshis. There is plenty of reference to Bangladeshi or Muslim issues but authenticity seems a little uneven. Translation of a prayer is touching. But a reference to the Muslims that died in Partition (at the end of colonial rule) seems less heartfelt. The young daughter, who has only ever known British ways, is a very convincing character on the other hand. I am tempted to wish that the original prize-winning writer had focused her efforts more on the daughter, someone much closer to her own diaspora experience.
As a film it succeeds. Exquisite photography and bundles of unarticulated emotion sweep us along at a heady pace. As a glimpse of another culture it is on less secure ground. The people claiming it misrepresented them may not have been statistically significant but why did it stir up so much trouble? Consider this. When Gurinder Chadha made Bride and Prejudice, she focused on the positive qualities of the two protagonists and cultures (India and America). When Deepa Meetha made Water, she focused on the positive strengths of the women on whose behalf the film was (in part) a protest. Sarah Gavron's heroine in Brick Lane, on the other hand, is almost an entirely a passive recipient of circumstance. We suspect she is a lovely person, but it needs more than some idyllic childhood memories of running through paddy fields to pinpoint the beauty within her. Much as the director's comment gives a higher purpose and reading to the film, it is not so obvious from viewing alone. Her comment about a sanctuary is a very spiritual one - perhaps even capable of uniting Muslims and Jews one day. But although her protagonist's husband does make reference to it at a Muslim meeting it could too easily be missed. Sadly, but not surprisingly, some audiences have reacted to the extremely personal (but more negative) images of her trapped and isolated woman.
For a film with a serious intent, Brick Lane stops short at quality entertainment. Compare Mira Nair's epic The Namesake, which asks questions about identity and answers them. Or the way Satyajit Ray looks at home and identity through simple observation If Sarah Gavron had wanted to accomplish anything as grand as the search for sanctuary in a foreign land, her scope needed to be more ambitious.
My sister, one of my best sources for literature that doesn't
disappoint, told me that Brick Lane was one of her all time favorite
books. I didn't get to it, but I did get to the movie.
After cinematically traveling to India via "Before the Rains" a couple of weeks ago, Brick Lane took me to Bangledesh. With continuous flashbacks to her home country, I followed Nazneem,a young Bangladeshi woman to the London ghetto in the early 1980's.
As was common in her culture, Nazneem left home at age sixteen to pursue an arranged marriage She has two daughters, who we meet as young teens, one of whom is as rebellious and difficult as any American teenager we've known (or been). Nazneem is dreadfully unhappy in her new life partly because she misses her sister back home. The other reasons have something to do with never having lived life on her own terms, losing her first born and a touch of early mother loss, too.
Let's just say that the different manifestations of love are examined in Brick Lane through the experience of Nazneem. How her heart opens and how she matures is unexpected. Without giving too much away, there is a drop dead gorgeous character named Karim who has something to do with it. Like a good book, and I suspect this is one, there are delicious surprises. Characters endear us in the end that we couldn't stand at first and others we admire, fall from grace. The story is rich.
So, I'll be getting my copy of Brick Lane by Monica Ali and will let you know how it measures up to this beautiful movie.
Weeks can go by without a worthwhile movie to see, but to have Before the Rains and Brick Lane in the same month. Now, that's a gift.
So many British films are costume dramas or gangster movies that it's a
real pleasure to see a work that focuses on the modern and very real
challenges of an immigrant community. Where "East Is East" dealt with a
Pakistani family and "Bend It Like Beckham" had an Indian focus, "Brick
Lane" - based on the Booker-nominated novel by Monica Ali - addresses
the life of a teenage girl from a village in Bangladesh (scenes
actually shot in a beautiful-looking India) who is married off to a
much older compatriot living in the eponymous area of east London.
So much is fresh and feminine here: most of the roles are for women and newcomer Tannishta Chatterjee, as the central character Nazneen, is excellent, often conveying so much simply with her eyes; Sarah Gavron is assured in her first directing role; the writing credits go to Ali herself and two other women; while the original score comes from Jocelyn Pook and the haunting singing from Natacha Atlas. This is a measured and intimate work that is more about different types of love and religion than it is about the Bangaleshi community itself.
Everyday Nazneen scrubs her foggy window pane trying to peer out of her
dingy Brick Lane flat. She longs to return to her childhood home of
Bangladeshi where she and her sister ran free through the lush woods
before her father forced her to marry an older man living abroad.
Nazneen has been raised not to question her fate, so she does her best to fulfill her duty to her husband and family.Her husband, Chanu, (Satish Kaushik) does not come off as a stereotypical tyrant but a chubby optimist who prides himself in being a western "educated man." He has instructed his daughters to assimilate into Western culture, yet expects to be treated as undisputed ruler of the household. This irony is not lost on their teenage daughter, Shahana, who disrupts the household by challenging her father. (Naeema Begum is pitch perfect as the average "mouthy" teen.) Nasneen does her best to shield (literally) her daughter from her father's retaliation. But the girls have no role model in their submissive mother. Nasneen's only connection with the outside world is what her husband shares with her. Unfortunately, he has absolutely no insight into the needs of his wife or daughters.
Nazneen finally decides to facilitate their trip back to her homeland herself by taking in sewing. The handsome young man (Christopher Simpson) who delivers the garments cracks open a window to the world. Director Sarah Gavron shows Nazneen's awakening through the subtle complexity of Tannishtha Chatterjee's performance.
When 9/11 ignites racial tension in the diverse neighborhoods of Britain, Nazneen must ask herself, "What is my true home?" Nazneen finds that home is where you find your strength.
Don't miss the gorgeous cinematography while it's still on the big screen. BRICK LANE is one of the best films of the summer.
Movie Blessings! Jana Segal reelinspiration dot blogspot dot com
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Contains very mild spoilers. The characters in Brick Lane appear boxed
into a confined, restricting little world (aren't we all...?). The
film's main character is a housewife, Nazneen (played by Tannistha
Chatterjee), who habitually recalls childhood memories of green, open
spaces and rural life in Bangladesh and shares her private sadness with
the viewer that her soul is denied a sense of freedom. Tensions,
frustrations and puzzlement about life and where it is going has as
it's main back-drop, the interior of a small East London flat.
Nazneen's proud, precise, well-read husband is not immediately endearing (in what appears to be a loveless marriage), but subsequently reveals his hidden depths on two occasions in particular; one concerning his Faith (in the presence of his community), in the wake of '9/11' (2001); the other concerning a significant choice about his family's future.
Nazneen's sister is never far from her thoughts and the arrival of her letters from Bangladesh have the effect of sustaining Nazneen in the belief that her sister has found love and happiness. Nazneen's only expression of real defiance directed at her husband concerns one of the letters. The correspondence between the sisters remarks on how we tend to put the reader's feelings before our own, when posting a little piece of our world overseas.
The film explores how one discovers a hidden self and qualities that duty, force of habit, the day-to-day, and the expectations of others, forces us to deny and conceal - ultimately to our own personal loss, leaving our relationships with those we love the poorer for it.
One character in the film is a corrupt elder in the community described as a 'userer' (loan shark!). She supplies a fascinating, malevolent contribution - until Nazneen, waking up to her own inner strengths, challenges her.
The film can perhaps best be summarised by the words of Nazneen's husband who later concludes admiringly that the woman he married (who has lived in his shadow some twenty years), was not a 'girl from the village'; implying that Nazneen's simple rural roots belied her wit and savvy. Another important point that should not be lost, is that Nazneen's place (for the most part denied her), in shaping the family's destiny influences their young daughter's lives; growing up essentially in two cultures.
Expect a small, compelling cast; admirably directed, scripted and acted throughout. A brave, beautiful film that handled sensitive issues with sensitivity, brought a tear to the eye...and a measure of hope.
From the rice fields in the opening scene to the claustrophobic Brick Lane flat, the powerful cinematography sucks you into this masterfully realized film production. I think Sarah Gavron has given life to an otherwise ordinary novel. The Bangladeshi community was apparently up in arms against the production.However, Mz Gavron has created a film that will convert even the toughest and most immovable heart of "brick" into "mud under your feet". The characters are unforgettable and the acting flawless. Tannishtha Chetterjee delivers a winning performance and carries the film by herself. Satish Kaushik tries to stay true to the caricature of a character that Monica Ali created in her novel but seems to have similar unidimensional personality problems to the character of "George" in "East is East". Overall the film is moving and sensitive. It is a delicious voyeuristic window into the life of an immigrant family and the havoc that is created in the family dynamic and the traditional power structure. You will never walk by another sari-clad woman the same way. Beautiful film. Bravo!
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Sarah Gavron's movie brings Monica Ali's popular novel about
Bangladeshis in London to the screen, which bears comparison with Mira
Nair's recent screened novel of an Indian family in America, The
Namesake. Less fun, more limited in focus, Brick Lane nonetheless adds
interesting new notes with its emphasis on the young arranged bride.
Nazneen Ahmed (lovely, slightly mysterious Tannishtha Chatterjee) is
seventeen when married off to Chanu Ahmed (the interesting Satish
Kaushik). He is not only older, fat, and unattractive, but a rather
silly man. He pretends to be an intellectual like Ashoke (Irfan Khan)
of The Namesake, but if he is, he can't parlay his love of Proust and
David Hume into a good job. Eventually he becomes a bus driver, but not
before he has gotten embroiled with a woman usurer in the community to
buy a computer. Meanwhile Nazneen starts sewing to make money, and the
young Bangladeshi man who runs the factory, Karim (Christopher
Simpson), has an affair with her.
2001 comes and Karim quickly turns militant and Islamic, while Chanu Ahmed comes through as more complex than we might have realized. He's a suffering mensch, a man who just can't fit in, and therefore also someone who doesn't flow with the prejudices or confusions of the crowd; and hence it's he who makes a strong little speech deflating the local Bangladeshis' claim to Islam historically as something that necessarily unites them. Of course Chanu Ahmed is also out of touch with his wife and their two girls (they've been in London for twenty years now, though the time is a little too vaguely telescoped). When the husband/father gets ready to return to Bangladesh after two decades, wife and daughters simply refuse to go. To save face he announces that he's decided they will follow later. Chanu Ahmed tells his wife he simply cannot stay, and she replies that England is her home now--as her young lover Karim told her earlier. But she has told Karim that she doesn't want to marry him.
The dialogue is on this simple level. What's subtle in Brick Lane is the way changes in characters slowly unfold over time. But though Nazneed is elegant and enigmatic and Chanu Ahmed acquires an appeal that is far more than skin deep, characters lack depth due to the not-so-interesting lines they're provided with. Family saga though this may be, it fails to pass the torch on to the children as The Namesake does, and all the relationships just seem to fizzle out. There's no clear hint of how they will end up.
If one thinks of the brilliant mid-Eighties Stephen Frears-Hanif Kureishi collaboration about Pakistanis in London My Beautiful Laundrette, with its novelistically complex characters and situations, one realizes that despite the soulfulness of Brick Road's heroine and the surprising complexity of her unattractive mate--and the droll humor and multi-generational scope of The Namesake--neither of these films condensing novels has writing as fine and original and rich as Kureishi's.
The wife of Brick Lane is a lovely woman, but her correspondence relationship with her sister back home seems an unfortunate casualty of the screen adaptation--it's never quite clear what all the flashbacks to their shared childhood are meant to mean in adult terms or why that relationship too, like the others, fizzles out. The interest of this new film remains its focus on the obvious possibility that though an arranged marriage may lead to propagation, it may never move on to understanding, and that an old man may remain unattractive. The husband goes home only because all his opetions have died. But that is a real outcome we don't often get to see.
Seen in London November 21, 2007. U.S. release as yet unscheduled.
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