Film Review – Trishna
Taken from the classic book Tess of the d’Urbervilles: A Pure Woman Faithfully Presented, by Thomas Hardy, Michael Winterbottom’s Trishna (2011) tries to put a modern spin on this story, but seems to have gotten it mixed up in the translation. Trishna (Freida Pinto) is a young woman from a small village in India. Her father is a big earner, driving produce around the town. When he is in an accident, a wealthy tourist in the town, Jay (Riz Ahmed), whose father owns several hotels, offers Trishna a job at one of them.
Jay is, from the start, attracted to Trishna. She, being from such poverty, is humbled that this rich man’s son has taken an interest in helping her, and obviously is very grateful. The problem is that they have very little beyond these basic ideas that drive their interactions, and it starts to become dull quickly. What is worse is that we take a good forty minutes setting up Trishna’s and Jay’s meeting and then her working at the hotel, where we are given shot after shot of them looking at each other or seeing Jay relaxing while Trishna works.
These endless random montages end up being what the film uses to try and spread out the action. These include long moments of watching Trishna riding on buses, watching her on a motorcycle, seeing her spending time with Jay, seeing her walking around the city, and many other different variations that drag down the film’s energy. We learn nothing in these moments about either one of the characters, and there aren’t even any interesting visuals to keep us in the story. A few of these sequences can work in a film if the filmmaker needs to show time passing or a sense of distance, but these seem more like the film needed a certain number of minutes and Winterbottom didn’t know how else to fill the time. When something finally does happen between the two characters, it causes Trishna to react negatively. Yet why she reacts this way is ambiguous at best. For that matter, Trishna’s stakes are never well defined.
This has become indicative of Freido Pinto’s career—she seems to keep taking roles that ask nothing of her beyond looking pretty and maybe making a sad face at times. Her character comes from poverty and is the main breadwinner now. Yet what this really means for her and how it defines her beyond that she feels in debt to Jay is never explored. Even when she and Jay start to get more involved and are a couple, making them in some ways on equal footing, she is still a blank slate. Why she is with him and what she wants from him are even less clear. Beyond knowing that she likes dancing, we know nothing else about her.
We do see a few more details, at least, in Jay. Early on, we see that he has a hold on her and that he never sees the two as equals; with his comments, we get a sense of his entitlement and his controlling personality. The only real growth of the character that we have, though, is when Jay starts to become more controlling and abusive. While we are given hints of this early on and have reason for this change in his personality, we never truly had a sense of who he was earlier, and so this transformation, while done effectively, doesn’t have the weight the film wants it to. The control he has over Trishna does show how quickly someone can fall into an abusive relationship. He has taken care of her and her family, and the idea that she can be more without him never seems to occur to her. Yet even in the more extreme situations, there’s a lack of intensity.
Having seen Roman Polanski’s take on this subject in his movie Tess, certain plot details were unsurprising, but even without this knowledge, everything feels like it is simply going through the motions to get to the end. The film never takes the time to give any weight to what is happening. Simply put, these are not interesting enough characters. We are given a very broad sense of who they are and nothing else; she is poor and easily manipulated, he is rich and used to getting what he wants. This plays out predictably with no subtext or depth beyond that, and, worst of all, it takes forever getting there.
Final Grade: C