Brick Lane (Sony Pictures Classics, PG-13)

film_brick-lane_sm.jpgAs long as Brick Lane remains focused on Nazneen, it succeeds admirably.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Adapting a popular novel for movies or the stage is a tricky business. Not only do you risk incurring the wrath of ardent fans who will feel you’ve mangled their favorite bits, or worse yet cut them entirely, but the process of translating prose into living breathing characters is not for the faint of heart. Director Sarah Gavron gets it right about 70 percent of the time with her adaptation of Monica Ali’s novel Brick Lane, and that’s more than enough to make this film worth seeing.

The heart and soul of Brick Lane is Nazneen (Tannishtha Chatterjee), who left her village in Bangladesh at age 17 to travel to London for an arranged marriage with Chanu (Satish Kaushik), who is old enough to be her father and assumes that possession of a Y chromosome makes him lord and master of all those unfortunate enough to be born without one. But Nazneen questions none of this; she was brought up to believe that a woman’s proper role is to endure whatever life presented her, and her mother assured her that "If God wanted us to ask questions, he would have made us men." The central story of Brick Lane is how Nazneen, against all odds, grows from a frightened village girl to a mature woman with complete mastery of herself.

As long as Brick Lane remains focused on Nazneen, it succeeds admirably. Chatterjee is a captivating actor and Nazneen’s confusion and shyness are mirrored in the cinematography, which features lots of extreme close-ups and rack focus shots (the latter is overused to the point of annoyance, unfortunately). Where the film fails is when it moves outside of Nazneen’s world and includes too many plot points and minor characters that are insufficiently developed. Even members of Nazneen’s family are frequently treated as plot points rather than real characters, and the film’s conclusion feels both rushed and unlikely.

There are many wonderful moments in this film, but I’ll mention just one. One night Nazneen is trimming Chanu’s corns (I guess there are no limits to the services a dutiful Bengali wife owes her husband) while they watch Brief Encounter on television. The significance of the film is lost on the self-centered Chanu, despite his much greater familiarity with British culture, while Nazneen gets it immediately. (In case you’re not up on your classic British films, Brief Encounter concerns a woman caught in a loveless marriage who by chance meets a man who truly can love her; it’s one of the all-time weepies). And there’s the whole of Brick Lane in a nutshell: Nazneen has grown beyond the limitations Chanu would place upon her, and you know that something’s got to give. | Sarah Boslaugh

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