Directed By: Michael Winterbottom
Starring: Freida Pinto, Riz Ahmed
Yes, it’s nice to work with solid source material, but that doesn’t mean, let’s say a book like Tess of the D’Ubervilles will translate well on the big screen. Having never read the book, it’s impossible to judge how author Thomas Hardy handled the character arcs there, but in Michael Winterbottom’s feature film, they have a beginning and end, but no middle whatsoever.
While on vacation with a group of friends, the son of a prominent property developer, Jay (Riz Ahmed), falls for a beautiful resort employee, Trishna (Freida Pinto). When not at the resort, Trishna works by her father’s side, as they need every little bit of money they can make in order to sustain their family’s daily life. When Jay finds out Trishna’s father was debilitated in a car accident, he offers to hire Trishna at the hotel his father insisted he manage. Trishna accepts, packs her things and leaves her family behind in order to support them.
Having never read the book upon which the film is based, the series of events in this film are shocking to say the least. At first, the story is your typical romance set to the tune of an extreme financial divide. While both Jay and Trisha are likable characters and easy to connect with, the fact that Jay is the first we meet makes it tough to switch gears and experience the story from Trishna’s point of view.
However, once we are firmly in Trishna’s shoes, Pinto’s performance pulls you right in. Trishna is a ball of confusion, both in terms of how she looks at herself and how the audience sees her. She’s so dedicated to her family that you just can’t imagine how she’d ever leave them behind, but has no trouble making impulsive decisions and doing just that. Still, she never seems entirely convinced of any step she takes and this lends itself to a particular volatile atmosphere.
Perhaps unless you’ve read the book, you really never know what’s going to happen next or how Trishna will react. While this works beautifully for the first half of the film, during which Trishna is exploring her budding young love with Jay, it crumbles when the two move to Mumbai and shack up together. At that point, the large majority of Trishna’s decisions are flat out unjustifiable. She goes to extremes, to say the least, and it doesn’t fit the person we’ve come to know up until this point. Jay suffers from an identical issue. Ahmed is fantastic and has no trouble showing Jay’s affectionate side as well as his rather selfish one, but, like Trishna, his transformation feels like an abrupt turnaround rather than a change fueled by reasonable causes.
Regardless, Trishna takes on an almost mesmerizing feel. The film moves particularly slow and Winterbottom opts to include quite a few extraneous short scenes and shots, but between the visuals and Pinto and Ahmed’s performances, you’re too invested and part of this world to give up on the experience. Winterbottom doesn’t let anything go to waste when it comes to shooting on location. Not only does he give an all-encompassing view of the landscape, but then he whips out a more intimate shooting style that keeps the core characters and their emotions in the forefront.
However, even though the film did have a notably engaging quality, it’s tough not to feel jerked around by the midpoint and also rather bored in some instances. While the first half is an enjoyable watch, if you actually look at your watch it feels as though far more of the running time should have flown by. However, the more devastating issue in this situation is the chain of events in the later portion of the film. You spend so much time becoming invested in these characters and getting to know them, but then those traits are proven false, making you feel like you’ve wasted your time or like you’ve watched two different movies.