Toronto International Film Festival
TORONTO -- "Brick Lane" adds another shrewd, poignant film to a growing genre of immigrant stories. This one stems from Monica Ali's debut novel, which was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize for Fiction in 2003. Where her book follows the life of Nazneen, a Bangladeshi village girl who moves to London at age 17 for an arranged marriage to an older man, the film version chooses to focus on a single fateful year, 2001, to capture the essence of how Nazneen, now a mother of two daughters, finds her identity, her strength and her voice after years of self-sacrifice.
The film, directed by Sarah Gavron, who helmed a well-received BBC TV movie and here makes her feature debut, has genuine warmth in its portrayal of this woman and her family and wisdom in how it subtly makes its points without resorting to melodrama or forced conflict. While the film should find eager adult audiences in the U.K. and other territories with large South Asian populations, in the U.S., Sony Pictures Classics will need rely on the easy access the film allows into Nazneen's life, making the foreign familiar and family situations universal.
Flashes of Nazneen's idyllic childhood in Bangladesh, playing carefree with her beloved sister, run through the film, in sharp contrast to her East London home -- a grim, unlovely street named Brick Lane and a mean flat, hemmed in by too much furniture and her husband's unjustified yet boundless optimism.
The film has skipped over 13 years of her adjustment to British society and the loss of her first born, a son. She has made a peace of sorts with her destiny, cutting her husband's corns, raising her daughters and leaving the flat only to shop. Indian actress Tannishtha Chatterjee gives Nazneen a keen intelligence and inner frustration, both of which are well disguised. With little dialogue initially other than voiceovers, Chatterjee must signal Nazneen's discontent in her eyes and the occasional stoop of her body.
Satish Kaushik, a well-known comic actor and film director in India, is wonderfully cast as the husband, Chanu, a character of Dickensian richness. Chanu is pompous and kind, full of plans that never pan out and convinced of future success when all signs indicate otherwise. Chanu is a poor match for his lovely and lonely wife. He is overweight, too old and exasperating, yet completely unaware of any shortcomings.
Letters from her younger sister back home give Nazneen a kind of parallel life. For her sister rebelled against family and ran off for true love, rejecting an arranged marriage. Then everything changes for Nazneen when the passionate Karim (Christopher Simpson) enters her life.
Nazneen has acquired a sewing machine and Karim brings her work in the form of men's pants to stitch. He is much more assimilated into British culture, yet is angry at the racial intolerance and anti-Moslem sentiment rife in that society.
Hesitantly yet excitedly, Nazneen falls into an ardent affair with Karim. For a time, she and her sister no longer live such different lives. Can this love for Karim save her?
The tragedy of 9/11 hits this community especially hard and Chanu more than ever feels the pull of home. He makes plans to return his family to Bangladesh. But his daughters are confirmed Londoners, and his wife no longer feels that pull as she once did.
"Brick Lane" is beautifully acted and written (by Abi Morgan and Laura Jones) so its themes are touched upon glancingly rather than with full force. The journey of all three major characters, Nazneen, Chanu and Karim, happens with remarkable subtlety so you can accompany them, so you can feel the emotions and experience delicate mental shifts. Behind the camera, everyone has done his job so that here too you can experience an environment and sense how it acts upon character.
Just walk through a bookstore in this city on your way to the films of the '07 Toronto International Film Festival and you can't help but be aware that the themes of multicuturalism and immigration will continue to recur in literature and cinema. "Brick Lane" is one of the better examples of how these themes can be expressed through characters that strive for self-determination in an increasingly complex but vibrant world.
R&C Prods., The French Connection, RAI Cinema
Director, writer: Vincenzio Marra
Producers: Tilde Corsi and Gianni Romoli
Director of photography: Luca Bigazzi
Production designer: Beatrice Scarpato
Costume Designer: Daniella Ciancio
Editor: Luca Benedetti
Caterina: Fanny Ardant
Filippo: Michele Lastella
Francesca: Giulia Bevilacqua
Captain Salvi: Augusto Zucchi
Donati: Atonio Gerardi
Anna: Barba Valmorin
Patrizi: Nicola Labate
Prisco: Maurizio Tesei
Running time -- 95 minutes
No MPAA rating