Is modern India as repressive as Victorian England? That’s what Michael Winterbottom suggests in his latest, Trishna; how else could he locate Tess of the d’Urbervilles there and make the fit between story and setting seem so natural? Freida Pinto stars as the title character, and she’s great, starting off as a bashful and kind country girl who slowly opens herself up to the possibilities of the big city, only to be shut down again by circumstance—the double standards and rigid moral codes of the countryside. Winterbottom shows the timelessness of Hardy’s melodramatic plots about social strictures and sexual exploitation, depicting an India of polarized classes—one inhabiting a fantasy world of luxury, the other a hardscrabble reality—where fusty traditions butt heads with modernity’s looser values. The movie breathes life into Hardy’s timeless themes with fresh settings.
And those settings seem in large part the point. Winterbottom’s last movie, a feature version of his television series The Trip, also at Tribeca, was a north England travelogue, a profile of a region through its food, lodgings, and roads; likewise, Trishna is a portrait of present-day India, packed with regional color, the country’s diverse landscapes captured in wide frames: the wheat fields, the ancient temple, the luxurious countryside hotel; the ceremonious dances, the domesticated animals, the wild monkeys climbing across power lines; the traffic-clogged city, the dusty villages, and all roads in between. (There are a lot of montages; you can tell the director shot much more documentary footage of India than he was able to use.) Winterbottom has always been difficult to pin down as an auteur; he works in a variety of genres and styles. In the last 20 years, he’s also worked in a variety of geographic locales. His previous Hardy adaptations have been set in England and the American West; consider the subcontinent checked off that list.
Trishna has its Tribeca debut this evening, and plays again tomorrow evening. More info here.
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