(MA) Madman DVD/BD

This adaptation of Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the d’Urbervilles is a compelling experience.

The film is cleverly set in contemporary India, facilitating depiction of the sort of class-based barriers and social distinctions that would have dominated Hardy’s 19th century England.

While touring Rajasthan with friends, wealthy and privileged Jay (Riz Ahmed) meets and is attracted to the beautiful Trishna (Freida Pinto), from a poor rural family. After Trishna and her father are injured in a road accident, Jay arranges a job for Trishna in his father’s hotel.

The two begin a relationship — always dominated by Jay — that gradually degenerates into harrowing exploitation, until Trishna retaliates with a desperate and tragic act.

The entire cast deliver superb performances. Pinto is luminous as Trishna, trapped both by her own needs and the imperative to financially provide for her struggling family. In a performance of great subtlety, she manages to convey a sense of her character’s personal dignity and courage — even when enduring horrific degradation.

She embodies the description provided by the subtitle of Hardy’s novel: A pure woman faithfully presented.

Ahmed copes well with the challenge of portraying a consistent character, as in this adaptation Jay appears to combine the characters of Alec (the squire who seduces Tess) and the more sympathetic Angel.

This consistency is achieved by a skilful rendering of Jay’s gradual moral deterioration as the seeds of arrogance and entitlement — evident early on — eventually yield their poisonous fruit.

The film’s final moving moments include schoolchildren reciting the Lord’s Prayer and the Indian national pledge, which become a form of lament for all the victims of human callousness.

An exquisite score and gorgeous photography of the cities and landscapes of India further enhance this powerful film.

Katrina Samaras


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