Brick Lane (2008) dir. Sarah Gavron
Starring: Tannishtha Chatterjee, Satish Kaushik, Christopher Simpson
The tradition of the arranged marriage in the Indian cultural has been potent material for filmmakers. Whether it’s in India, Canada, the U.S., this tradition continues to have significant emotion effects on its emigrants or second generation emigrants. In “Brick Lane” Sarah Gavron tells another one of these stories, this time from the point of view of a Bangladeshi woman living in London. A few unpredictable twists and turns in the plot push the film past the familiarity of the subject matter.
Nazneen Ahmed (Chatterjee) lives in London with her arranged husband and their two daughters. There’s no hiding her sullenness. Her husband is an unattractive pathetic sonofabitch with a dead end job. In addition to the dreams of her idyllic childhood in Bangladesh, Nazneen’s only respite are weekly letters from her adventurous sister back home.
A bright light shines on Nazneen when she meets a neighbourhood seamstress who offers her a job mending denim jeans at home. Then she meets and develops a sexual affair with her local delivery boy Karim – the handsome virile boytoy depressed middle-aged women dream of. Their relationship advances to the point of a real midlife crisis where Nazneen must decide whether Karim is the person to right everything that is wrong in her life.
The ethical questions posed by Nazneen extramarital affair are nothing new to cinema, but Gavron paints such a drab picture of Nazneen’s life, the answers to her internal conundrum are not difficult to decipher. Her husband is not given any redeeming qualities whatsoever. He’s unattractive, unromantic, controlling, demanding, idle and irresponsible. So when Karim appears in Nazneen’s life their affair is acceptable from her point of view. And when the flirtation is consummated it makes for a pleasing emotional release.
Up until this point we are unaware of the time period but Gavron effectively turns the tables and reveals the pitfalls of the relationship when Sept 11 happens. Like everyone else in the world after this benchmark event nothing will ever be the same. This dramatic plot turn takes us out of Nazneen’s clouded point of view and anchors the story in the big picture reality. Suddenly what seemed like obvious answers are now much more complicated.
Visually Gavron seems to channel the impressionistic work of Terrence Malick. Her frames are soft and textured, beautifully backlit, moving in and out of focus, and surrounded by lush colours. Especially in her dream sequences, the camera floats around as free as her imagination. Even Jocelyn Pook’s melancholy score sounds a lot like Hans Zimmer’s work in “The Thin Red Line”. It’s all impressive and beautiful stuff, at times over romanticizing the environment, but overall an effective way to put us into Nazneen’s point of view.
Though Sarah Gavron is not Indian, her film feels as culturally authentic as anything by Deepa Mehta or Mira Nair. “Brick Lane” announces Gavron as one of Britain’s promising new female directors and career to watch.
“Brick Lane” is available on DVD from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment