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Review: 'Brick Lane'

| Friday, July 25, 2008

It's becoming an epidemic: "Brick Lane" is yet another bright little under-the-radar drama, hiding in plain sight under a bland, not-very-descriptive name.

Based on the novel by Monica Ali, "Brick Lane" is a beautifully shot story about a girl from Bangladesh -- a small country bordering India and Pakistan -- whose people are paradoxically ranked among the "happiest" in the world and among the poorest.

Nazneen was happy, playing in the fields of her family's farm with her beloved sister, Hasim. But their idyllic, pastoral reverie ends abruptly when their depressed mother drowns herself in the river.

Soon, Nazneen is given in an arranged marriage to a much older, educated Bangladeshi living in London. As the boat leaves her village, she takes one last look at her sister.

Sixteen years later, in London, Nazneen (Tannishtha Chatterjee) has two daughters and is living in a dirty, crowded high-rise full of other Muslim immigrants. Her fat, proud husband isn't easy to love.

Nazneen seems to walk through her life in a perpetual daydream, roused only by letters from her sister.

Her awakening begins with the gift of a sewing machine from her more liberated neighbor. Soon, she's running a sewing business at home, which brings her into contact with a brash young denim courier and community activist, Karim (Christopher Simpson).

A forbidden romance begins. Then comes 9/11, and everything changes.

Chatterjee's strong performance subtly slips some steel into a character initially defined by her passivity. Without easy scapegoats or villains, "Brick Lane" is a convincing, affecting portrait of Muslim immigrant womanhood. At a time when there's pressure to see them as some kind of inscrutable alien "other," this tale of conflicted love and family ties is very easy to understand, and relate to.

• At The Manor, Squirrel Hill

Additional Information:

'Brick Lane'

Rated PG-13 for sexuality and brief strong language Three stars (out of four)

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