Dir: Sarah Gavron UK. 2007. 101 mins
Monica Ali's 2003 novel Brick Lane was feted for its ability to blend the personal and the political as it recounted the experiences of a young Bangladeshi woman's journey of self-discovery. It was illuminating about the hidden lives of Britain's Bangladeshi community and the growing racism abroad in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. The respectable film version heavily compresses the novel into a less complex but still touching, small-scale tale of female empowerment that almost feels like a variation of Shirley Valentine.
British audiences are notoriously resistant to films that reflect their mulicultural world-Kenny Glennan's critically acclaimed Jasmin (2004) failed to even secure a theatrical release domestically.
The reputation of Ali's novel is the film's biggest commercial asset.
Stressing a story of impossible love and the charismatic performance of
Tannishtha Chatterjee could provide the ingredients that will translate
into a modest specialist release.
Constant in her belief that what cannot be changed must be endured,
Nazneen (Chatterjee) has grown to accept her life in London's Brick Lane, far from her childhood village in Bangladesh.
She devotes herself to her two daughters and husband Chanu (Kaushik), a corpulent buffoon of a man hopelessly deluded about his status in the world.
If she wants to escape, she lets her mind wander back to happy memories of long ago times spent with her beloved sister.
Her life begins to change when she finds herself drawn to the handsome Karim (Simpson), a young man who becomes increasingly radicalised as the Muslim community comes under attack.
Brick Lane works best as a love story that finally gives Nazneen the
confidence to face the realities of her life and assert herself.
The growing attraction with Karim is sensitively handled with a clip from
Brief Encounter underlining the kind of risk that both of them are
The progress of their relationship is charted with economy
On the political front, the film promises rather more than it delivers with the notion of growing anti-Muslim feelings and a community under siege providing a modest part of the bigger picture and largely fading into the background once Chanu decides the family should return home to Bangladesh.
In her feature film debut, director Sarah Gavron shows a fondness for
close-up compositions that allow her to showcase the beguiling presence of Tannishtha Chatterjee but also lend the film a slight television feel.
There is more of a cinematic sweep to the flashback scenes of vibrant
colour and village life. Chatterjee more than handles the demands of
carrying the picture, investing Nazneen with a gracefulness that make
audiences all the more sympathetic to her plight.
Nazneen is taught to know her place and do her duty but Chatterjee is able to convey all her frustrations with the kind of withering looks that make dialogue superfluous.
Chatterjee is not a newcomer but this is the kind of performance that should take her career to a different level.
The Works International
based on the novel by Monica Ali