Judge Franck Tabouring almost got lost on Brick Lane once.
Home is where the heart is.
Sarah Gavron's family drama Brick Lane only made it into a quiet limited release in North America last summer, but the film's powerful story and intriguing characters deserve much greater attention. I wouldn't go as far and call it a masterpiece, but its undeniably surprising and warmhearted plot, fantastic look, and stellar cast turn this little movie into an experience that's hard to ignore.
Facts of the Case
Based on the best-selling novel by Monica Ali, the film follows the touching story of Nazneen (Tannishtha Chatterjee), a young Bangladeshi woman who is forced to leave her home and her beloved sister for an arranged marriage and a new life in London.
Brick Lane doesn't waste much time establishing its main story line and introducing viewers to its central characters. Instead, Gavron's movie kicks right off with the dramatic death of Nazneen's mother, a tragic event that immediately seals the young girl's fate. Indeed, just a few moments later, we see her leave behind her beloved home to travel to London and meet her husband Chanu (Satish Kaushik), a disgruntled middle-aged man who's not exactly a tyrant but whose actions and discouraging behavior make it almost impossible for Nazneen to love him.
Years later, Nazneen spends her days indoors with nothing to do. Chanu is working hard to keep the family afloat financially, and Nazneen's two daughters are off at school for most of the day. She would like to use all her time constructively and sew like many of her neighbors, but she quite simply doesn't have the means to get the necessary equipment. The only joy Nazneen really has is her memories of her childhood and her sister's colorful letters about the exciting life back home. In fact, it is Nazneen's greatest desire to abandon her life in London and return home for good…at least until she meets Karim (Christopher Simpson), a young, charming man who quickly turns her life upside down.
And so begins the moving story of Nazneen, a woman far away from her beloved home she never wanted to leave in the first place. The most interesting thing about Brick Lane is the film's examination of Nazneen's striking sadness and her growing inner conflict about where she really belongs. Up until Karim shows up at her front door, all she can really think about is packing her stuff and heading back home to her sister, but once she starts developing feelings for this attractive, energetic man, Nazneen is not so sure moving away is the best option anymore. Does she really want to abandon this brand-new feeling of happiness? Is she ready to pull her kids out of school and away from their friends? These are just two questions Nazneen has to deal with over the course of the movie, and watching her battling this sort of identity crisis is a truly engaging experience.
Besides focusing on Nazneen's desire for a change in her life and her struggle to discover where her home really is, Brick Lane touches on several other themes that may not get the same detailed treatment but certainly boost the film's overall dramatic atmosphere without ever transforming into a saccharine melodrama. I don't want to mention them all because the movie's surprising plot is actually one of its biggest assets, but one specific subplot that certainly represents a realistic problem but could at the same time draw a bunch of criticism is the flick's depiction of the growing hatred against Muslims in London immediately following the 9/11 attacks. Without saying too much, there is a rather interesting moment later in the movie during which Nazneen's husband reveals a different side of his personality by making a controversial speech in regard to this subject. This part may anger some viewers, but it also reflects an interesting debate that gives us a better insight into a character we've pretty much disagreed with for most of the movie.
Besides an entertaining story that's neither boring nor monotonous, Brick Lane also features an impressive look. Gavron's direction, Robbie Ryan's beautiful cinematography, and Melanie Oliver's clean editing turn this movie into a visually stunning experience filled with strong colors and contrasts that help build a certain atmosphere on their own. One more thing: the cast. Tannishtha Chatterjee's natural beauty and her undeniable talent definitely make her a fabulous choice for the role of Nazneen. She plays this character with a lot of passion and honesty, but she never has to overdo anything. Also delivering solid, authentic performances are Satish Kaushik as her husband Chanu and Christopher Simpson in the role of Karim.
For a standard DVD release, Sony Pictures Classics delivers a striking 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen presentation with a rather sharp image quality and strong colors. As I already mentioned the film boasts a gorgeous look, and this disc undoubtedly does it justice. The audio transfer works just as flawlessly, with the beautiful score and the film's dominating dialogue balances fairly well.
Brick Lane may be a small film, but this disc comes loaded with plenty of enlightening special features. Besides a trailer and six interesting deleted scenes, the bonus material also includes three in-depth cast and crew interviews totaling 46 minutes. Sarah Gavron, Christopher Simpson, Satish Kaushik, and Tannishtha Chatterjee talk in great length about their experience making this film, as well as the challenges they faced, how they were cast, and what it is about their characters that intrigued them so much. Also included is "Exploring Brick Lane," a 10-minute behind-the-scenes look featuring more cast and crew interviews that primarily deal with the shooting of the film. If you would like to find out more about select scenes but don't really like to listen to feature commentaries, this edition also provided six informative scene specific commentaries by Gavron and some of her cast and crew members. On the other hand, if that's not enough, make sure to check out the full-length commentary by Gavron and Chatterjee. Both women definitely have tons of interesting things to say about pretty much everything in the movie.
If this is your genre, Brick Lane is undoubtedly a must-see. With a smart and touching film, great technical aspects, and top-notch extra features, this is the kind of DVD I'm proud to add to my collection. This one is well worth the investment.
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