London Film Festival 2011: Trishna (Michael Winterbottom)

A loose adaptation of Thomas Hardy’s 1891 novel, ‘Tess of the D’Ubervilles’, Trishna tells the story of a woman whose life is destroyed by love and its circumstances. Here, Winterbottom takes us to modern day India, where rural peasant girl Trishna (Freida Pinto), meets Jay (Riz Ahmed), the son of a rich businessman. After a car accident destroys her father’s jeep, Jay offers Trishna a job in his father’s hotel in Jaipur. Desperately needing the money, Trishna accepts. The attraction between them grows but they cannot escape the conflicting pressures of modern society and their family’s expectations.

Trishna marks the third film that Winterbottom has taken inspiration from Hardy, the first two being Jude ’96 (Jude the Obscure), and The Claim ’00 (The Master of Casterbridge). Taking on Tess in this way could be seen as a brave move by Winterbottom and indeed, he has received a lot of criticism for missing detail, actors unequipped for the roles and a thrown together script. David Gritten for The Telegraph commented ‘Trishna feels faintly unsatisfying, leaving a sense of opportunities missed and details not quite thought through’. Glen Sumi comments that there is ‘no sense of tragedy” and Peter Debruge for Variety writes the ‘tale feels heavy-handed’ and that “Winterbottom never quite convinces that the character (Jay) is cruel enough to deserve the fate that awaits him”.

The sad pattern that emerges is that Winterbottom did not quite succeed in his great ambitions. I disagree with claims that Freida Pinto was too immature an actor for the role. I thought she handled it well, better than in Slumdog. However, I thought Riz Ahmed struggled with his characters dramatic change from lad-having-a-laugh to icy rapist. Winterbottom insisted the dialogue to be part-improvised, perhaps difficult for a actor unused to this method.

Shigeru Umebayashi (In the Mood for Love, A Single Man, House of Flying Daggers) composed the score beautifully, creating a slow waltz to complement a love that was both tender and sad.

In short, although I enjoyed the film, it is difficult to disregard a wealth of criticisms which argue differently and thus I have come to notice flaws in the film, especially in contrast to a novel so rich in dramatic tension.

It is astounding the number of films Winterbottom creates compared to other directors, releasing 1 or even 2 per year. While each is filled with creativity and thought-provoking ideas, one might wish him to spend more time calibrating these ideas so detail was not missed.

in cinemas March 2

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