A crushing sense of claustrophobia permeates exquisite, melancholy Brick Lane. Nazneen (Tannishtha Chatterjee) is sent from her idyllic village in Bangladesh to London to marry a man she’s never met. There she toils through a loveless marriage to obese, middle-aged pedant Chanu (Satish Kaushik) and motherhood to two thoroughly Westernized girls, only leaving her council flat when she needs to shop. Nazneen’s complete lack of autonomy compounds the stifling atmosphere, so when she clasps at a bit of freedom it feels like the doors have just opened on a crowded subway in August.
Director Sarah Gavron skillfully juxtaposes the fecund color and heat of Bangladesh with London’s gray immigrant ghetto, turning them both into color-coded paradigms befitting this mythopoetic narrative. Chatterjee imbues the mostly-silent Nazneen with a vulnerability that belies her quiet strength, and Kaushik is alternately repulsive and pitiful as Chanu. Christopher Simpson exudes a charismatic sexuality as Karim, a young Islamic reactionary who brings the entanglements of the outside world with him into Nazneen’s apartment. The feverish emotion of the three characters combined with the oppressive nature of Nazneen’s existence and the political climate of an immigrant Muslim community in the early part of this decade create a roiling narrative pitch that is relieved only by Nazneen’s surprising final decision. Brick Lane is beautifully made and told, captivating its audience within its tiny sphere.