A review of “Brick Lane” by Jeanne Aufmuth

 

Stars: ***

Rating: PG-13 for mature themes.

Run Time: 1 hour, 41 minutes

 

 

It’s been done before and perhaps done better but this multi-cultural fish-out-of-water tale hits some eloquent notes.

Introspective teen Nazneen is forced to leave her South Indian village when her mother dies at her own hands. Life in London is anything but idyllic as the adult Nazneen (Tannishtha Chatterjee) is married – through arrangement – to an oafish and idealistic Bangladeshi named Chanu (Satish Kaushik) who quits his job on principle and promises riches galore when he ultimately lands a new gig.

Nazneen suffers in silence, caring for a pair of spirited daughters and performing her traditional duties on auto-pilot while desperately yearning for her homeland and the sister she left behind.

Forced to help make ends meet Nazneen takes in sewing and unexpectedly falls for the British-born Bangladeshi delivery boy (Christopher Sampson as Karim) who appears with stacks of denim jeans in need of repair.

Their ardent affair is the centerpiece of a larger picture; the horrific 9/11 attacks, a burgeoning Muslim fundamentalism and a love than cannot be allowed to flourish.

Director Sarah Gavron utilizes her accoutrements with finesse – swatches of colorful sari contrasting with London’s grey gloom, a brilliant cascade of oranges tumbling down a rusted staircase and the sinewy glow of sexual tension.

The second act is weighted down with harsher dramatics and emotion jockeying for prime narrative space and creeping perilously close to cliché.

Performances – particularly Chatterjee’s – are beautifully bittersweet; the internal British-Bangladeshi tug of war pervading her very essence. Even the loutish Kaushik delivers a stirring monologue on the brotherhood of Islam than renders him near-sympathetic. The handsome Simpson’s fiery convictions are admirable – he’s easy on the eyes and more.

A sense of isolation and struggle for identity in an oppressive culture wash away superfluous formula, leaving a lovely tranquility in their wake.