In the West, we have starter marriages. In the East, they have arranged marriages - not everywhere, but the practice continues. And wouldn't you know it, they often work out, deepening into love over the years. That's what happens in Sarah Gavron's Brick Lane, sort of, emphasis on "sort of." Based on Monica Ali's celebrated novel, Brick Lane is the story of a Bangladeshi girl who gets married off to a Bangladeshi man twice her age who lives in London. Torn from her home, Nazneen (the beautiful Tannishtha Chatterjee) struggles to survive in a country that doesn't exactly welcome South Asian immigrants with open arms. And her husband (Satish Kaushik), though nice enough in a patriarchal way, is a dreamer who's determined to be more British than the British. Nazneen's life feels like a life sentence, but she's been raised to keep her mouth shut and serve her time.
Then she starts taking in some sewing, which might seem like indentured servitude to some of you, but to Nazneen it's a liberation. It plugs her into the teeming world outside her council-housing apartment, specifically the handsome young Muslim man (Christopher Simpson) who picks up and delivers the jeans she works on. Like Ali's novel, the movie puts us in the uncomfortable position of rooting for Nazneen to have an affair. And although its story is considerably stripped down - a single year instead of decades out of Nazneen's life - it manages to touch on all the social forces that shape this village girl into a city gal. Gavron directs with a great deal of sensitivity, finding the flower-in-the-concrete beauty in Nazneen's run-down neighborhood, mostly through lighting and soft-focus. But it's Chatterjee who puts Brick Lane over the top. Rarely has reticence seemed so tragically heroic.