PUBLISHED: 08:27 13 March 2012
When it comes to the films of Michael Winterbottom, Britain’s most fecund film director, I believe most people would probably say they prefer his later funnier ones (the ones with Steve Coogan and latterly Rob Brydon – 24 Hour Party People, A Cock and Bull Story, The Trip).
When Winterbottom feels like doing bleak he often reaches for his trusty volumes of Thomas Hardy. The news that he has gone back to Hardy for a third time makes your heart sink, but his approach to adapting Tess of the d’Ubervilles is novel.
The film plonks a simplified version of the story down in present-day India and the sets out to lose it in the colour and contradictions of the place.
The trace of the story is there, transformed into the tale of a rich English boy (Riz Ahmed) forced to run a luxury hotel in India by his father and the poor country girl (Freida Pinto) he falls for and gives a job to, but its trail is scattered casually among the events.
This is Winterbottom at his most Altmanesque. The feel is loose and immediate. The dialogue is recorded casually so it is often hard to pick out what exactly is being said. Even the Hindi language exchanges are transcribed in itsy-bitsy, teeny-weeny white subtitles.
A layer of extraneous events is caked upon the central narrative.
The editing is almost Michael Bay rapid, lots of shots lasting three to four seconds. Understandable when trying to convey the frenzy of Mumbai but a little forced in a simple dialogue scene. This restless, jittery style makes it seem as if the film is desperately trying to shake itself free of the clammy grasp of Hardy’s tragedy.
The effect is to suggest that this great tale of tragic love is ultimately a tiny insignificant detail in this frantic land. It’s a very contemporary reworking of Hardy.
When Fate finally gets to lay a hand on them, it doesn’t seem preordained but the random accumulation of a thousand small chance moments.
Director: Michael Winterbottom
Starring: Freida Pinto, Riz Ahmed and Roshan Seth
Length: 113 mins