Monday, August 11, 2008

Brick Lane A Study in Humanity

Brick Lane is a tremendous effort by first time director Sarah Gavron that captures the transformation of Nazneen from a sheltered Bangladeshi immigrant coping with despair and lovelessness in London's east end to a more modernized and less innocent woman. The film traces Nanzneen's idealized childhood, where she runs wild with her sister through fields. However, this freedom is little more than a memory, when Nanzneen is shown 16 years later in her cramped, dark, cloistered existence. Shrouded in black and keeping to herself, Nanzneen detests her overweight, educated husband, and seems to care only for the care of her two daughters. The romantic visions of her early life return throughout the film, as bright moments of escapism. The suicide of her mother during childhood seems a distinct possibility for Nanzneen, whose entire world consists of her apartment and her view out the window. Only her husband's promise that they will return to Bangladesh gives her a reason to persist. When spunky Razia moves in next door, Nanzeen is inspired to begin a home sewing business to help pay for the return flight to Bangladesh. The business brings her in contact with Karim, a muslim rights activist, and the two begin an affair that forces Nanzneen to re-evaluate her identity.

The film weaves together complicated strands to create an intelligent study of love, memory, and the shifting roles played by men and women in the immigrant family. Through a shattering of her naive and romantic understanding of the past, Nanzneen comes to learn the differences between the real and ideal. The dangerous seduction of idealization is also identified when Karim and his group spout empty platitudes for Muslim unity following the attack on the Twin Towers. Chanu sees through the radicalism and ahistoricity immediately, pointing to the real situation that took place in Pakistan a generation before.

The theme of the immigrant experience is equally well developed, where Chanu is conflicted between his desire for a traditional and a modernized family. He loves his family, but understands none of them. He is educated academically, but lacks common sense. He tries to embrace life as a Londoner, but only comes off as a comic imitation. Even the wall paper in his apartment is a failed attempt to imitate a country interior. Yet for his failures, he struggles with very real emotions of pride and tenderness. Nanzneen's experience is one of awakening and a shedding of her old identity as she learns what the new world can offer her. While her mother was trapped in her Village Life, she has the opportunity to improve her station not through marriage or sex, but through her own efforts.

From the acting to the production values, the film is a great success. Nanzneen's caged existence is mirrored in short, jagged shots that mirror her agony. Her angry, resentful glare softens as she falls in love, as she herself does not have the words. The entire crew does a fantastic job conveying emotion through color and cinematography, rather than through dialogue. This film is highly recommended and a moving study of the new immigrant.

Brick Lane opens August 15th in the AMC forum

1 comment:

mw said...

WARNING: this comment will ruin important elements of suspense or surprise in the film.


after we saw the film, my friend told me he found the love between Nanzneen and her husband, Chanu, unbelievable. for myself, it wasn't impossible to believe that she came to love him, especially since she said she had to give love a whole new meaning (or invent another kind of love) to express the tenderness she felt for him. i liked the triad formed by this realization of love, her realizing the fantasy she'd been having about her sister's loves, and her realization of the fantasy inherent in her love affair with karim.

what seemed harder for me to believe was the way she managed finally to seem so at home in london. the difficulty she had in expressing what she wanted (or in willing her own freedom) was compelling - and inspiring - but i think the fact that the actor who was playing nanzneen had much better english than her husband was unrealistic (given her shrouding, keeping to herself, only going out to go shopping at the bangladeshi market, etc.). This could be a minor point and somewhat outside the film itself (just as we don't mind ignoring the fact that actors in films about the roman empire are actually speaking american english), except that without that command of english she would have been much less convincing as having the wherewithal to succeed in london and provide for her children.
still, despite the kind of fantasy that remained for me behind all the cutting through fantasy, i liked the film very much. there's an interesting controversy behind it, too: apparently, the residents of brick lane kicked the filming out of their neighbourhood part way through, believing it was not portraying the bangladeshi community in a good light.