Matt Pais, @mattpais
RedEye movie critic
July 19, 2012
**1/2 (out of four)
"Trishna" opens as if it could be an Indian cousin of "The Hangover," as Jay (Riz Ahmed of "Four Lions") and his fellow vacationing dudes either lounge and laugh freely or lay around nursing the night before.
Few of the women in this somber story possess the same unencumbered control over their lives. So when Trishna (Freida Pinto of "Slumdog Millionaire") and her father are injured when he falls asleep at the wheel, she would be foolish not to take Jay up on his offer to give her a job at his father's hotel. It's nowhere near her family's house, but they need the money.
For a while, the developing relationship between Trishna and Jay breeds soft affection--quiet smiles and his efforts to provide academic opportunities previously unavailable to her. Yet the latest from director Michael Winterbottom ("The Trip," "A Summer in Genoa"), updating Thomas Hardy's Victorian-era novel "Tess of the D'Urbervilles" that was also tackled in Roman Polanski’s 1979 “Tess,” subtly transitions into a document of class differences and the female experience when classified only as a maid, a single lady or a courtesan. Those are the three kinds of ladies to whom the kama sutra says a man can make love, and Jay tells Trishna she's all of them wrapped up in one. Maybe he means the way Ludacris wants a lady in the street but a freak in the bed. Regardless, after sinking into a life that asks her to wait tables, serve her husband, submit to him sexually and repeat, Trishna doesn't take this as much of a compliment.
The erratically paced film only talks about the different social standards in various cities, rather than demonstrating why it's acceptable for Jay and Trishna to date/co-habitate in some and not others. Jay's switch to more sinister behavior also occurs as questionably as a tragic ending that's not foreshadowed by what comes before.
Yet the presentation of privilege rings true, and Pinto's performance trembles with the heartache of a woman rarely at peace with decisions she makes out of necessity. It's a tender but tough look at another culture--and the sort of vivid portrait deliberately avoided by the dopey tourist grazing of stuff like "The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel."
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