Cinema Review: Trishna

DIR: Michael Winterbottom  WRI: Thomas Hardy  PRO: Michael Winterbottom, Melissa Parmenter, Sunil Bohra  DOP: Marcel Zyskind  ED: Mags Arnold DES: David Bryan Cast: Freida Pinto, Riz Ahmed, Roshan Seth

Two years from the controversial The Killer Inside Me, Michael Winterbottom returns to the big screen with Trishna, which offers a modern-day spin of Thomas Hardy’s penultimate novel, Tess of the d’Ubervilles. Regarded as a very significant piece of English literature, it has been adapted in a number of different mediums, with the most recognisable being Roman Polanski’s Tess, made in 1979 with Nastassja Kinski, and the 2008 four-hour TV adaptation, starring Gemma Arterton in the title role. It has also been made into a stage show on several occasions in the past, which comes as no surprise, because Hardy is one of those writers, like Charles Dickens and William Shakespeare, whose work can be interpreted in a number of different ways.

In the case of Trishna, Winterbottom has decided to transport it from the Long Depression-era Wessex setting of the novel to present-day India, with Slumdog Millionaire and Rise of The Planet of The Apes actress Freida Pinto starring as the titular Trishna, who accepts a job in a plush hotel in Jaipur after her father is injured in a road accident. While there, she catches the attention of the hotel owner’s son, Jay (Four Lions‘ Riz Ahmed), whom she later falls in love with, before moving to the glamorously-depicted Mumbai. However, as is also the case in Hardy’s source novel, things eventually take a turn for the worse for our young heroine.

All of this seems like perfect territory for Winterbottom, who has adapted Hardy’s work in two of his previous films (Jude and The Claim), and is a director of formidable talent when he is on form. In the case of Trishna, Winterbottom succeeds in applying the complexities and symbolisms of the Hardy book to a present-day location, but the film does have certain faults that stops it from being ranked alongside the very best Winterbottom films, like A Mighty Heart, 24 Hour Party People or Wonderland. In terms of the film’s good points, the cinematography of Marcel Zyskind and production design of David Bryan are of the highest quality, as they make good use of the film’s exotic locations, capturing perfectly the kind of world that Trishna has a desire to be a part of.

As expected, Winterbottom’s direction is sure-footed, ensuring that the varying segments of the film don’t feel disjointed at any particular stage. There are also fine performances from Pinto and Ahmed in the lead roles, who make a very believable screen couple. Unfortunately, the way their characters are depicted doesn’t quite work on screen, and while the filmmakers have remained relatively faithful to the novel (to the point that Hardy is the only one who has received a writing credit), some of the elements of the narrative don’t work quite as well within the confines of this film. Trishna, for instance, does seem all too willing to accept the circumstances she finds herself in, which makes it less of a surprise when matters take a turn for the worse for her in the film’s final act. Ahmed probably has the tougher task of the two, however, as his Jay takes on a sudden transformation from the charming young man we first meet to the increasingly unpleasant person he becomes during the film’s climax. The film’s depiction of gender inequality and class division is also rather muddled, and not entirely convincing, despite the best intentions of all involved. Nonetheless, as far being a modern-day spin on a well-told literary story, Trishna still rates as one of the better ones, and is certainly one of the best-made examples of a classic story getting the 21st century treatment. It is also refreshing to see Winterbottom having the courage to take liberty with certain elements of the book in his attempt to give the film a unique voice, and while Trishna is ultimately a flawed addition to his cannon, it still manages to highlight how effective his improvisational style of filmmaking can be.

Daire Walsh

Rated 15A (see IFCO website for details)
Trishna is released on 9th March 2012


Four Lions

Four Lions

DIR: Chris Morris • WRI: Chris Morris, Jesse Armstrong, Sam Bain, Simon Blackwell • PRO: Mark Herbert, Derrin Schlesinger • DOP: Lol Crawley • ED: Billy Sneddon • DES: Dick Lunn • CAST: Kayvan Novak, Riz Ahmed, Preeya Kalidas, Nigel Lindsay, Arsher Ali

Four Lions is Chris Morris’ first feature, co-written with Jesse Armstrong and Sam Bain, the creators of Peep Show, alongside some additional writing provided by In the Loop’s Simon Blackwell. Morris’ previous barbed satirical TV output is well complimented here by his collaborators as Four Lions opens out through satire and embraces that particular human condition of comic tragedy that so often lies behind failure. It’s a decent debut from Morris and it will be interesting to see where he goes from here.

The film follows the bungling exploits of a sub-par band of Jihadi terrorists from Sheffield who set out to become suicide bombers during the London Marathon. The group consist of Omar (Riz Ahmed), his brother Waj (Kayvan Novak), Barry (Nigel Lindsay), Faisal (Adeel Akhtar) and Hassan (Arsher Ali). Omar is a family man who believes what he is doing is his destiny. Waj is in on it out of blind idolisation of his brother. Barry is a Caucasian convert with a nihilistic personality that needs to yolk his anger onto a cause so as to channel it. Faisal is a few chapters short of a Koran. And Hassan is roped in after threatening to blow up a political meeting with a set of party poppers strapped around him.

After Omar and Waj return from their calamitous experience at a training camp in Pakistan, Omar devises his plan to bring attention to their cause by donning ridiculous costumes and, under the guise of charity runners, running in the London Marathon and blowing themselves up. As they are about to join the marathon an inquisitive policeman remarks to them that, ‘You’ll die in those outfits’, which elicits the response: ‘Yeah. But it’s for a good cause’.

The film balances Morris’ trademark acerbic social insights and invective ridicule with more playful scenes of out-and-out physical comedy. Armstrong and Bain capture the nuances and rhythm of dialogue and their skill in creating character comedy is on display here. There’s some excellent verbal farce as well and the banter results in some amusing gag jousting.

As you would expect from Morris, the tone is never quite clear as it throws up some skilfully constructed jarring scenes of tonal contrasts that produce conflicting emotional responses. There are also some touching scenes as when Omar goes to say goodbye to his wife. Indeed the family dynamics produce some of the film’s most tender and dramatic scenes.

Morris incorporates particular aspects of reality into the film and exposes cack-handed preposterousness with a deft comic touch, such as during the marathon when the police are trying to ‘shoot the bear’, and instead shoot a wookie, and the resultant discussion over whether a wookie is a bear – an allusion to Jean Charles de Menezes, who was shot dead on 22nd July, 2005 by police who mistook him for one of four would-be suicide bombers who had attacked London’s transport system the previous day. Such displays of incompetent stupidity grounds so much of Morris’ output.

The film is well cast and Ahmed and Lindsay give the two standout performances. Although Preeya Kalidas as Omar’s wife Sophia brings an underplayed tension to the few scenes she’s in that brings the terrorist aspect onto a deeper emotional level that is acutely painful. There are some structural flaws with the film and  two or three scenes are overly contrived in order to crowbar in comic set ups. It flags a bit in the middle and stumbles on in search of its culmination. But for the most part the film contains some fine moments and fulfils its aim of exposing the absurd nature of reality.

Four Lions is more mainstream than you would expect from someone with Chris Morris’ history. But I think this was necessary for him to be able to tackle the subject matter at hand and produce a film that at its heart deals quite sympathetically with that most curious of matters – human failure. The film’s final scenes are bathed in a bleak humour in the face of the brutal futility of the situation as matters come to a head. And by this stage, Morris has done enough with his humanized terrorists to make you care, which makes it all the more striking considering where our sympathies lie.

Steven Galvin

Rated 15A (see IFCO website for details)

Four Lions is released on 7th May 2010

Four Lions – Official Website