Tuesday, July 24, 2012


A Path To Liberation, At A Very High Price

Freida Pinto in the title role of Michael Winterbottom's drama "Trishna". 
IFC Films


Omar P.L. Moore/        Follow popcornreel on Twitter FOLLOW                                           
Tuesday, July 24, 2012

There's nothing perceptibly different about the India of Michael Winterbottom's new drama "Trishna", now in select U.S. cities, from that of say, Danny Boyle's "Slumdog Millionaire" or "The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel".  Those two films focused less on an examination of Indian life and culture.  "Trishna" however, showcases a quiet, probing look inside the country, allowing us a prolonged glimpse at India's pace, its people and their way of life.  It's a view that lulls you into a false sense of peace and traquility.

Freida Pinto ("Slumdog Millionaire") stars in "Trishna", giving a startling performance as its title character, the breadwinner of her family in a village in Rajasthan.  Her father is ashamed that they have to depend on Trishna, who works in a hotel resort as a server.  The native-born Trishna meets Jay (Riz Ahmed), an Indian man from London whose millionaire father (Roshan Seth) has handed control of the family's hotel industry business to him.  Jay offers Trishna a chance to leave Rajasthan and make substantially more money in Bombay working in his chain of hotels.  Things look good.  Jay likes Trishna.  The inevitable happens.  Trishna, a gentle, polite and perhaps naive sort, has dreams of being a dancer, and the film flashes obligatory "Bollywood" overtures.  Between work days Trishna practices and perfects dance moves.

Colorful, serene and beautiful (Marcel Zyskind's warm, lush cinematography), "Trishna", filmed on location in India, is an intimate, slow burn chronicle of transitions and the relationship between Trishna and Jay.  The film examines the tensions between traditional "old world" India and the modern, quasi-liberating India where women are concerned, as well as generational, class and gender conflicts.  Based on Thomas Hardy's 19th century novel Tess Of The D'Ubervilles, "Trishna" gradually changes temperature, tone and terrain until its conclusion -- which, if you haven't read Mr. Hardy's classic novel -- is heavy, blindsiding and intense.  When the sudden end of "Trishna" arrives it makes sense, even if you may not be sure exactly sure how.  It would be tempting to say that nothing transpires in "Trishna" but all the while you feel that heartbeats, minds and circumstances are changing.  (Note the not-so-subtlety of the opening credits: lettering changes in font and height -- it's clever, offering a discreet sneak preview of what will eventually come.)

"Trishna" is akin to stealth moves on a high-wire.  The end is the exhale.  It's not comforting, and with the powerful work of Ms. Pinto, who displayed similar fortitude and substance in Julian Schnabel's underappreciated 2010 drama "Miral", Trishna as a character comes full circle.  She's not passive despite appearing to be; every move she makes is of her own volition.  She has ambition.  Trishna internalizes ups and downs, and the expansive landscape she inhabits only reinforces her isolation.  Ms. Pinto is excellent at building expectation, and her acting is exuded solely through her eyes, which in one scene look so starkly different as to be absolutely frightening.  It's a look that registers indelibly, at odds with her undeniable beauty.  Mr. Ahmed is very effective as Jay, a man who feels the pressures of having to maintain his father's business, something he doesn't care to do.

Expectation, tradition and the violation of both is what "Trishna" is about.  The film has a push and pull to it, displaying conflict between busy city life and the rural everyday.  Michael Winterbottom is the perfect director for this material; he brings sensitivity and evenhandedness, investing time in, and patience with, India's architecture, villages, culture, immersing the viewer.  Refreshingly, Indians here are not the backdrop for a drama or musical as they are in many films (including two of the aforementioned); they are its lifeblood, ever-relevant to "Trishna". 

Mr. Winterbottom is an eclectic filmmaker.  He doesn't take short cuts.  He defies expectations, and like Steven Soderbergh works often and rarely makes two films alike.  You never know what he'll do next, and in that way he mirrors his characters in this latest effort.  With "Trishna", as with other effective Winterbottom films there's an emotional resonance penetrating the surface of the dramas he creates, sometimes overwhelming them ("The Killer Inside Me"), other times accompanying them perfectly ("9 Songs", "A Mighty Heart", "The Trip".)

As "Trishna" demonstrates, the independent-minded Mr. Winterbottom will fully commit to a vision, no matter how large or small.  He builds moods well and is proficient at carving out time, space and emotions for his film characters to feel, breathe and experience.  The acting in many of his films consequently feels more earthy and naturalistic than theatrical.  Often his players take silent, but nonetheless palpable, heartfelt journeys through life.  I think of the loneliness of Steve Coogan's character in "The Trip" as a quick example, and how even on the road with his good friend (Rob Brydon) he was as lonely as ever.  Trishna has a sunny heart, and an easy smile when with Jay, and with her family and friends, but is she truly happy?  Time will tell.

Also with: Anurag Kashyap, Kalki Koechlin, Meeta Vashisht, Neet Mohan, Aakash Dahiya, Harish Khanna.

"Trishna" is rated R by the Motion Picture Association Of America for sexuality, some violence, drug use and language.  In English and Hindi languages with English subtitles.  The film's running time is one hour and 53 minutes. 

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