"We must not run from our fate; it must be borne."

Brick Lane

An Illusion Review by Joan Ellis

            “Brick Lane” is another poignant version of the immigrant experience. Wherever their country is, their stories almost always have roots in the deep sadness of alienation, in the reality that the first generation never fits while the second fits so well they have little interest in returning to their homelands. Do you have to grow up through the schools of a country in order to make it truly yours? Probably.

            People may be of primary importance in life, but time and again happiness seems to trip over something more primal – the deep root to place that is left behind. That first generation is too close to where they played, went to school, and built friendships with friends and family. This is the case with Nazneen (Tannishtha Chatterjee) and her husband Chanu . The film opens with scenes of the idyllic childhood of Nazneen and her sister playing in the landscape of Bangladesh. At seventeen she is sent away to an arranged marriage with Chanu (Satish Kaushik), a fat, much older man trying to make his way in London. “Our mother told us,” ‘We must not run from our fate….it must be borne.’ An attitude brought from home already sets them apart from their new culture.

            Our hearts sink as we see her new home – a cluttered apartment behind one of the dozens of doors in a three tiered brick motel type structure surrounded on all sides by concrete. In this place she dreams of home and swimming with her sister in the lush countryside. “”What can you say to a pile of bricks?” she asks. After her arrival, the movie jumps forward and stays in a later year when the couple has two daughters.

            Nazneen has lived now for well more than a decade in this immigrant prison, venturing out only to shop for food, her beautiful clothes of black and red and gold contrasting sharply with the drab surroundings – the expression of one culture swallowed by another . Chanu is a decent enough fellow, but he suffers visions of success that never comes while Nazneen lies awake nights in the depression of being trapped forever.

            When the World Trade Center is destroyed, the effects ripple throughout the world. In London, discrimination against immigrants intensifies until finally Chanu announces the family will return to Bangladesh. Nazneen’s dreams of that return have faded as her children become anglicized and she herself is drawn into an affair with Karim (Christopher Simpson). She is beginning to find both freedom and new roots.

            The twin dilemmas of arranged marriage and national alienation in a culture that ignores both are surely repeated more and more often in the mobile populations of a global world. The principal actors here do a very good job of conveying the inevitable sadness that engulfs a small family overwhelmed by a big problem. And almost always the sadness springs from the pull of the place that was left behind.


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