dir-scr Michael Winterbottom
prd Sunil Bohra, Melissa Parmenter, Michael Winterbottom
with Freida Pinto, Riz Ahmed, Roshan Seth
release UK Oct.11 lff
11/India Bankside 1h57
Indian summer: Ahmed and Pinto

pinto ahmed winterbottom
london film fest
R E V I E W    B Y    R I C H    C L I N E
Trishna With this darkly edgy romance, Winterbottom adapts his third Thomas Hardy novel, Tess of the d'Urbervilles, and sets the action in India. It's colourful and dramatic, but lacks the passion the story requires to grab our emotions.

When her father loses his livelihood in a traffic accident, Trishna (Pinto) needs to support her family in Rajasthan. So she takes a job offered by flirty tourist Jay (Ahmed), who works at his father's hotel in Jaipur. When Jay pushes their relationship further, Trishna runs home. But Jay finds her and talks her into moving with him to Mumbai, where they can live together while he pursues his dream of being a film producer. And as he becomes more distant, Trishna wonders if she's made a terrible mistake.

Winterbottom beautifully captures the colours and textures of India, combining beautiful but gritty photography (by Marcel Zyskind) with a lively song score. It also a perfect setting for Hardy's story, cleverly adapted to the present day in a society that is just now emerging from old traditions into the big bad world, much as Britain was doing when Hardy was writing in the 19th century.

Less convincing is the way the characters come across. Trishna is an intelligent, capable woman who has a good job, then proves herself adept at studying hotel management and could also make a living as a Bollywood dancer. And yet she passively allows herself to be blindly led by Jay. A mixture of Angel and Alec from the novel, Jay shifts abruptly from kind and generous to romantic charmer to aggressive monster as the film progresses. And these transitions feel constructed by the screenwriter.

Even so, Pinto and Ahmed superbly play each scene with internalised conviction that almost bridges over the gaps. Their chemistry is very strong, even as the relationship shows signs of strain. But the film's meandering structure makes it begin to feel a little dull, simply because there's no sense of logical momentum.

In the end, there's plenty to admire. The film has a lot to say about the nature of relationships, especially where family responsibilities come into play. And the strong performances and skilful filmmaking contribute to moments of intense joy and pain. Although some key changes to Hardy's plot mean that the story's finale is a bit more alarming than we expect.

cert 15 themes, language, sexuality, violence 22.Oct.11 lff

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© 2011 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall