Quick cuts and subtle eye movement make up the uncomfortable foundation for an adaptation of a famous piece of English literature, wrought with tension and despair. Trishna, a vapid Michael Winterbottom interpretation of Tess of the d’Urbervilles set in modern India, sees the endlessly gorgeous Freida Pinto playing a quiet and naïve country girl swept up by the charm, and economic promise, of a secretive suitor that one would be wise to avoid.
Trishna does what she can to help provide for her family, but when her father suffers an accident and can no longer work, she accepts an offer from the inquisitive Jay to work at his hotel. So beings a courtship that becomes more a psychological abduction, as Trishna is lured against her better angels to the big city and a life of obedience in an effort to gain money for her family.
It is a frenetic slow burn. Winterbottom seems unwilling to stay with one shot more than a few seconds, save for a pair of brutally intense scenes at the film’s climax (what you might expect to happen having either read the book or followed the tone of the movie). It is a tale told by pictures and gestures, not by words whatsoever, with pain, fear, and desperation building behind the eyes of Trishna.
Pinto excels, and is perfectly cast, what with her warm features and soft spoken nature. She does a lot with a little, exuding purity and earnestness. She is taken from the small town to the big city, where she embraces newfound acquaintances and activities. Her excitement though, is tempered by her relationship with Jay, an unpredictable one without trust. He takes her away only to abandon her, after a night of somewhat consensual sex (perhaps? It is one of the many scenes suggested and referred to, but not shown), and then later returns to whisk her away again.
He is completely unlikeable and exceptionally boring, as opposed to Trishna, who is likeable but too quite boring. The film too is boring, save for a finale that finally has a pulse – so to speak. Filled with beautiful sights, lush colours, and plenty of chaotic city imagery, you can tell the story is filmed in India, you just can’t really tell what the story is.
Like Jay, Trishna immediately captures the attention of the audience, but like Jay, the audience knows too little of her. She does not develop, and it is only a credit to Pinto’s winning nature that you would care about her for as long as you do. Trishna is not as layered and interesting as her literary inspiration Tess, nor sadly, does she possess any thirst or desire, the qualities behind the meaning of her name. She is passive and uncertain, gorgeous, but empty. Not unlike the movie itself.