A loose adaptation of Thomas Hardy's 1891 novel Tess of the d'Urbervilles set in modern-day India, Michael Winterbottom's Trishna is an impressionistic variation on Hardy's themes, a successful attempt to get at the core of the source material through a circuitous route. Jay (Riz Ahmed), a British-raised hotel scion who has reluctantly come to India to manage one of his family's properties, meets Trishna (Slumdog Millionaire beauty Freida Pinto), the eldest daughter of a rickshaw driver, and offers her a job as a server at the property he oversees. Winterbottom creates a dialogue between a postcolonial, emerging global market and the remnants of pre-industrial society that remain present, psychologically if not practically. Trishna's most fascinating variations on the conflict between past and future come in its sketches of sex and gender, made particularly palpable in a subplot involving Mumbai's film industry. Simultaneously blatantly sexual and buttoned up, taking female pleasure as its subject while asserting incredibly old-fashioned patriarchal ideals, Bollywood gives Winterbottom an ideal container to talk about modern media and mores in India, bumping against archaic ideas about men and women embedded in the nation's art, history, and religion. In the hands of Winterbottom, who has an unparalleled talent for infusing red flag sex with dread without sapping it of sexiness, the master-slave dialectic is made grossly, appropriately literal.
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