Friday, October 26, 2007

London Film Fest Day 10 - BRICK LANE

We've heard a lot in this film festival about how liberty suffers in times of war. But with BRICK LANE we have a real life case study of political correctness and multiculturalism in Britain today. Monica Ali's book and Sarah Gavron's new film were both attacked by elements of the Bangladeshi community for being racist - for portraying the Bengali community in an unfavourable light. As a result, this movie was not actually filmed in Brick Lane - the heart of the Bengali community in London's East End. Prince Charles also pulled out of the planned Royal Premiere because the film was seen to be too controversial, which is why the movie ended up as a late addition to the London Film Festival. So much for being "Defender of Faith". His Royal Highness should perhaps consider his responsibility to be a defender of liberty and artistic freedom.

So much for political correctness gone crazy and on to the film. (I admit to not having read the incredibly popular novel on which the movie was based.) Monica Ali's story has two main strands. The first is a love story. Tannishtha Chatterjee plays a Bengali girl called Nazneen. At 16 she is married off to a man called Chanu (Satish Kaushik) and leaves her Bengali village for London. Whenever she thinks back to her time in Bengal it is depicted as a country of vivid colours and happy memories. I have to say that I am a bit tired of seeing this sort of slo-mo colour-saturated flashback, but heigh-ho, I suppose it does show how we idealise our past. 16 years later, Nazneen is the mother of two daughters and dissatisfied with her husband. He comes across as a fat pompous fool, fond of literature, sure of a promotion, and domineering. Nazneen takes in sewing when her husband loses his job and ends up having an affair with an attractive young man called Karim (Christopher Simpson). The dramatic tension rests on whether she will leave her husband for her new lover. The love story is decently acted but has absolutely no dramatic tension. From the first moment Nazneen claps eyes on Karim, we know they're going to fall in love.

The second, far less developed and yet far more interesting, strand deals with the politics of immigration. At first, the Bengali community is conciliatory towards the outside world - wanting to engage and feeling victimised by racism. By the end of the film, they have become more fervent and more aggressive. By far not enough time is given to this theme.

The character that really links the two strands in the husband Chanu, played by the brilliant Satish Kaushik. Again, he's not given enough time at the expense of the more photogenic love story. Chanu is fascinating because he puts his faith in the system. He is well educated and trusts that merit will be rewarded. But he is duly passed over for promotion because he doesn't look and sound the part. When the community starts to become more aggressive he makes a stand for humanism and compassion - a moment of real nobility that earns the audience and Nazneen's respect. And finally, he comes to the rather depressing conclusion that he cannot exist both as Bengali and English resident. Kaushik successfully brings off this complex character - both domineering and gentle; both ridiculous and noble. It is by far the best and most fascinating part of the film.

Both Georg (Our Gmunden Correspondent) and I left the cinema with mixed feelings about BRICK LANE. So much of the shooting style and central love story seemed predictable and derivative. But the character of Satish, and the hints of the deeper social and political changes, were very interesting indeed. So, we give it a mild recommendation.

BRICK LANE played Toronto 2007 and goes on release in the UK on November 16th.

1 comment:

  1. I thought it was really boring and at least half an hour too long