[Review] – Trishna

11 Aug

Title: Trishna
Year: 2012
Director: Michael Winterbottom
Writer: Michael Winterbottom, based on the novel by Thomas Hardy
Starring: Freida Pinto, Riz Ahmed
MPAA Rating: R, sexuality, some violence, drug use and language
Runtime: 117 min
IMDb Rating: 5.6
Rotten Tomatoes: 67%
Metacritic: 57

Michael Winterbottom is a very eclectic director. In the three years I’ve been reviewing films I’ve seen three films of his, and they couldn’t be any more different from each other. In 2010 I saw The Killer Inside Me, a super dark and violent film, and even though that one featured a really good performance from Casey Affleck I thought Mr. Winterbottom failed at giving us any kind of closure, though I still gave it a B. And then last year I saw The Trip, the film version of the TV special he did with frequent collaborator Steve Coogan alongside Rob Brydon, in which the two just improvise with each other as they do a gastronomic tour of Britain, I gave that one a B+, though I may bump it up to an A- were I to re-grade it, since it’s just seriously rewatchable.

The effort Mr. Winterbottom is giving us in 2012 is nothing like a dark tale of a psychotic killer that shows a huge amount of violence towards women, nor is it a low-key improv with two of the best comedic minds in the U.K.. No, Trishna is actually an adaptation of Thomas Hardy‘s Tess of the D’Urbervilles that’s set in contemporary Rajasthan. Like I said, he couldn’t be a more eclectic director.

Trishna is the Tess character, played by Freida Pinto here, who lives in a village in the largest state in all of India and, as the eldest daughter and after her father is injured in an accident, she’s tasked with bringing home the money. And then she meets a wealthy young British business, in town at the bequest of his father to help him run the family’s business, and she gets a job at that business, a luxurious resort. They meet, they dance, they fall in love. But no matter how strong their bond seems to be, their is ultimately a tragedy at the hands of love and family that Trishna must experience.

I’m happy to report that Mr. Winterbottom managed to find a way to really get this story right. The fact that this is set in India and it has Freida Pinto in it may have some thinking about Slumdog Millionaire, a film that I really loved when I first saw but that have found less and less enchanting with each extra viewing, but this is the total opposite of that, this is a really brave kind of film that defies conventions and never once takes the easy way out. Slumdog Millionaire was all about that formulaic love story with the great visual sights and even a Bollywood dance number, and even though Ms. Pinto also dances in this one, that’s about the only thing the films share in their approach to their particular stories. I actually like Slumdog Millionaire far better, I was just really entranced by how different this one was, even though the easier thing would have been to kind of copy Danny Boyle.

The tragedy is the change in personality that Jay, the guy Trishna falls for, goes through in this movie. At first we can understand why she falls for him, but then the guy goes through such a transformation in personality that we can’t really understand why it’s taking place, and we just feel so sorry for Trishna. It really is quite heart-breaking, how she falls for him, and he seems like a seriously good guy, they seem to be in a relationship that can really defy barriers imposed by class. And then in the blink of an eye he grows super aggressive, and yet you just know that he has her in his grip, and Trishna’s bound to be seriously hurt. I won’t tell you exactly what happens, but just know that every time it seems as though Trishna’s freed of him, he comes back, he “rescues” her again, and it’s just tough.

What I liked is that Mr. Winterbottom doesn’t just make Trishna the victim, even though she is, but instead he does show that she does actually have a way out of this horrible predicament, it’s just she just doesn’t want to take it. There are a few instances in which it’s clearly shown that Trishna, no matter how big she dares to dream, and she really does, won’t actually go out on a limb to chase that dream. And then there’s the fact no matter how horrible this man is to her, it really does seem as though she’s in love with him. That’s the tragedy; she’s given a way out, but either she can’t take it or she just blatantly chooses not to.

I liked this film a good deal. I won’t call it great because that’s not really what it is, and I’m not entirely sure where this would rank amongst Mr. Winterbottom’s oeuvre because this so different from what he’s known for, so much more straightforward and less edgy and less, I don’t know, male-oriented. But this is also the third Thomas Hardy adaptation he’s offered so in that regard you could say that it’s not that different, and it packs a real emotional punch, and even though Ms. Pinto looks great in all of the films she does, this might be the first one in which she’s convinced me that she can actually act.

Give Trishna a chance, that’s what I’m saying here. It’s such a complex look at the country in which it’s set, and at the class and race distinctions that still predominate in it that it’s fascinating, just as it’s fascinating to see the changes Mr. Winterbottom makes to the source material, and how much the emotions and themes explored in it can be applied in a modern setting. This is a director that never repeats himself, and so long as he keeps challenging himself and never taking the easy way out, I’ll always be first in line to check out his latest effort.

Grade: B+

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