Brick Lane (UK - DVD R2)
Scott McKenzie takes a look at the movie based on Monica Ali's bestselling novel
Brick Lane tells the story of Nazneen, a Bangladeshi woman who is sent to Britain, leaving her beloved sister behind for an arranged marriage to an older man chosen by her father. Now, after losing her first child, she has two daughters and finds herself spending most of her time alone and waiting on her family. When her husband quits his job, Nazneen takes a job working from home sewing garments for a neighbour’s business. Her life changes when the young delivery boy Karim takes a liking to her…
The film opens with a flashback to Nazneen’s previous life in Bangladesh, which in her eyes was non-stop fun with her sister right up to the point when her mother killed herself. We then fast forward to ‘today’, where her colourful life in Asia is contrasted with a boring existence in a rather grim housing estate in London. This transition neatly sums up the central character’s emotions as we are introduced to her. She yearns to go back to Bangladesh and the only highlight of her life is the letters she receives from her sister.
This is ultimately the story of someone finding themselves through external influences. Without giving too much away, the affair she has with Karim has a lot to do with her self-discovery, but Brick Lane doesn’t quite follow the same path as many ‘affair’ movies. There are certain plot points you expect to appear eventually but the affair doesn’t reach the resolution you might expect. There are comparisons to be drawn between Brick Lane and Brief Encounter, although the use of a clip from that classic movie is a bit too heavy-handed for my liking.
The performances of the central actors are a mixed bag. Tannishtha Chatterjee is believable in the role of Nazneen—subservient and quiet early on but the changes in her character towards the end of the film are convincing. The only problem I had with the character of Nazneen was the way the scene of her looking longingly at a sewing machine was shot. I realise that the sewing machine held the key to her independence but I found this scene very silly. Watch it and you’ll see what I mean. The young actress who plays her eldest daughter Bibi is also a good find and the relationship they share on screen is where the emotional core of the film can be found, almost like Bibi is a substitute for Nazneen’s sister.
I thought Christopher Simpson tried a bit too hard to make Karim a rough and ready rebel and he overdoes it by generally swaggering around a bit too much. Satish Kaushik plays Nazneen’s husband Chanu and I thought his character was probably given the worst lines, so the appearance of his character is quite annoying. His discussions about education and quotes from books probably read very well in the novel but when transferred to the screen, it looks like the writers are over-emphasising the point that he and Nazneen aren’t well-suited.
That aside, Brick Lane is still an interesting film. The strong performances outweigh the bad and the blips in the screenplay and it offers some originality in a genre that makes up a large percentage of the British film industry’s output. Be warned though—it’s not a long film but moves pretty slowly and there aren’t many laughs to be had so make sure you’re in the right mood for it before popping the disc in your player.
When I saw Brick Lane in the cinema I didn’t pay any attention to the aspect ratio but now it has arrived on DVD I was surprised to find that it is presented in 2.35:1. I expected it to be shown in 16:9, but the film is a little more visually impressive than most British social dramas. The director mentions the aspect ratio on the commentary, saying that the associate director convinced her to use the wider aspect ratio and it pays off in certain scenes. The flashbacks to Nazneen’s life in Bangladesh are intentionally romantic, as if she is looking back through rose-tinted glasses. The colours during these scenes are vibrant and this transfer does them justice. A large amount of the movie is filmed with quite soft focus and while that may not appeal to all viewers, there are no obvious problems in the transfer with grain, edge enhancements or other artefacts.
This disc comes with three audio tracks: Dolby Digital 5.1 surround, Stereo and an audio description option. Significant sections of the film are relatively quiet, with dialogue pretty much the only content emerging from your speakers. That’s not necessarily a bad thing though as the dialogue is clear and pitched at the right level. The flashback scenes are a different story though, with more detail coming through the surround speakers. The movie opens in the past, with insects and music to draw the audience in before we get into talky mode so while the audio might not blow your socks off, there are no problems with the quality here.
The disc opens with skippable trailers for My Blueberry Nights, How To Get Married and Stay Single and This Is England. A theatrical trailer for Brick Lane is also available in the extras menu. A commentary track is provided by the director Sarah Gavron and the producer Chris Collins. They go into plenty of detail about the making of the film, with interesting points about Nazneen’s romanticised memories of her childhood in Bangladesh. However, they don’t really share any banter and as a result, the commentary is as dry and earnest as the film itself. Scene specific commentaries are also provided by various members of the cast and crew over four key scenes. This is probably a better alternative to a full-length commentary track with the crew because we get straight to their valuable points without having to sit through the whole movie.
‘A Conversation with Monica Ali and Hanif Kureishi at the ICA’ does what it says on the tin. The two writers are joined on stage by someone who chairs the conversation as they discuss the issues of writing movies based around ethnic communities in the UK. ‘Exploring Brick Lane’ is the standard making-of featurette with interviews with the cast and crew and behind the scenes footage. We then get a selection of interviews with the director and the main actors. They have a lot to say about their views of the characters they play but there is a bit of repetition between the interviews, the commentary and the making of.
Brick Lane may not be the funniest or most exciting movie ever made but it’s a solid film and highlights Sarah Gavron as a young British director that might be worth keeping a look out for in the future. It’s a good-looking film and the transfer highlights the moments of visual flair. The audio quality is functional but the extras are more comprehensive than I had been expecting so fans of the movie should definitely think about picking up this release.
Review by Scott McKenzie
Suitable only for persons of 15 years and over
Release Date: 10th March 2008
Disc Type: Single side, dual layer
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1 English, Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo
Extras: A Conversation with Monica Ali and Hanif Kureishi at the ICA, Exploring Brick Lane, Interview with Sarah Gavron, Interview with Tannishtha Chatterjee and Christopher Simpson, Interview with Satish Kaushik, Theatrical Trailer, Commentary with Director and Producer, Scene Specific commentaries
Easter Egg: No
Director: Sarah Gavron
Cast: Tannishtha Chatterjee, Satish Kaushik, Christopher Simpson, Naeema Begum, Lana Rahman
Length: 101 minutes
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