★ ★ ★
Starring Freida Pinto, Riz Ahmed, Anurag Kashyap and Kalki Koechlin. Written by Thomas Hardy. Directed by Michael Winterbottom. Produced by Michael Winterbottom, Shail Shah, Compton Ross, Phil Hunt, Sunil Bohra, Fenella Ross, Elliot Ross, Jessica Ask, Alice Dawson, Anurag Kashyap, Guneet Monga, Anthony Wilcox and Melissa Parmenter.
Visually stunning, with contemporary India as a backdrop, Trishna is an interesting, if not strange adaptation of Thomas Hardy's classic novel, Tess of the d'Ubervilles. Now, in addition to the differences between privaledged and poor, themes of tradition and religion are weaved throughout the film, offering some insight into Indian culture from a woman's perspective. Solid performances from both of the leads keep the audience engaged, but can't possibly fix the problems the screenwriting creates.
In an atypical role, Pinto is compelling as Trishna – while she doesn't say much, she manages to make the audience feel perfectly miserable, exuding a certain amount of tortured anxiety and proving she's more versatile an actress than she's displayed thus far. Her co-star, Ahmed also adds an element of discomfort as her love interest, Jay, setting the morbid tone of the film. Trishna and Jay are convincing as a runaway couple in love in Mumbai, and set up a good unbalanced relationship dynamic where he is ultimately the one in control. It's the quick degradation of this relationship after Jay learns of a secret Trishna's been hiding that doesn't quite add up. The latter half of the movie suddenly switches to back-to-back awkward extended sex scenes intended to make you feel uncomfortable and grimy. And while they do, they also overshadow an important aspect of the story, and that is the emotional pain the characters are feeling and how they're coping with it. Since Trishna is barely given screen time alone at this point, we have no real concept of how mad she's been driven or how unhinged she's truly become, presenting the final events of the movie as a complete shock to people who haven't read the novel.
Ultimately, Trishna has an interesting concept and should by all means be a powerful story, but it lacks the substance necessary to truly move the audience. And while it's tedious and perplexing, it's equally fascinating, sparking the audience's curiosity of Indian culture as well as dazzling them with its breathtaking landscape and aesthetic. —Rebecca Hillary