I'm going to be brutally honest and expose how terribly uncultured I actually am. I've never read Tess of the D'Ubervilles. I know, I'm sorry, for someone who likes to go around calling himself a writer and never experiencing the works of Thomas Hardy, yes, it's a bit of a faux pas on my part. However I have seen this new film by the ever evolving Michael Winterbottom, which bases itself on Hardy's novel, I'm reviewing today called Trishna. It's very good. And here's why...
Set in various parts of India the film tells the story of a young woman named Trishna (Freida Pinto) as she goes off to work in a gorgeous hotel miles away from home, so she can support her family after a terrible accident inflicted upon her father. By doing so she meets a dashing rich man (Riz Ahmed) who sweeps Trishna off her feet and together they start a new life. Of course this seemingly sweet love story slowly descends into something much darker, much more primal and so inexplicably bonkers. Don't let the soundtrack fool you, this was surely not the stuff of Bollywood cinema.
I'll excuse Ms Pinto's last outing on the blog, for her contribution to Woody Allen's god awful You'll Meet A Tall Dark Stranger, on account she was far from being the worst thing in it. Thankfully in Trishna she shined as the title character, in this irresistible blend of being coyly shy and mysterious then being outrageously sexy when it was called upon. Ignorantly speaking I can only imagine her characterisation in the film of being very respectful, not overly outspoken or disrespectful to Ahmed's character in ways shows off the social hierarchical system in the country, considering Trishna's impoverished background. That said, her will and determination is what drives the film forward. This relentless yearning to keep on bettering herself and moving forward, until it all gets a little bit too much.
The film got curiously stranger through the evolution of Ahmed's character, the initially charming and generous Jay. He courts Trishna like any gentleman of wealth and means would, extravagant gifts, sweeping her away from a torrid life in a factory to the bustling, progressive, metropolis of Bombay. The works. Suddenly through certain non-spoiler revelations he becomes progressively crueller and bitter resulting in one of the most emotionally charged finales I've seen in a film so far in 2012. I can understand why some people watching it would find it all a little baffling, but for some reason it all just connects for me. Almost Mad Men-esque in the falseness of it all, on the surface, compared to the darkness bubbling underneath.
Though I find Winterbottom's films a little hit/miss, 2010's The Killer Inside Me being most dull for such an exciting subject, with Trishna it's a true feast for the senses; from the exotic music to the vivid, intoxicating, backdrops and art design. Having a quick breakdown of the story the film is based on, you can see where Winterbottom's screenplay is quite smartly adapted from Hardy's source material, but its highest accolate is that regardless of the Thomas Hardy link the film stands on its own merit so beautifully. It's just as serenely uplifting as it is poetically tragic.
Trishna is a truly powerful film on so many levels. Freida Pinto and Riz Ahmed's performances make it just as much a creditable love story as it is some utterly mental sexual odyssey into the darkness which lies in one's soul. Though its evolution is slightly clumsy at times, Michael Winterbottom has created a film which is visually glorious and allows you to immerse yourself in the richness of India's urban and rural landscapes. Beautiful, haunting, sexy, twisted, tragic. Excellent.
Trishna is in selected cinemas through the UK now.