Both are very strong, firmly in tune with Hardy's bleak originals, so when it was announced that Winterbottom was going back to the well for "Trishna," a loose adaptation of "Tess of the D'Urbervilles" (a Hardy novel previously done by Roman Polanski in "Tess" and more recently, a BBC miniseries starring Gemma Arterton and Eddie Redmayne) for a version set in contemporary India, hope was high that it'd be another home run for the filmmaker. Unfortunately, those hopes have come to nothing; "Trishna" is as disappointing a film as any that Winterbottom has made.
The director (who's also credited with the screenplay, although the dialogue was largely improvised), his first solo writing job since "9 Songs") has made some pretty radical changes to the source material -- not only has he shifted the setting halfway across the world (almost the only way you could bring it up to date and still make it work), but also cutting many of the characters and plot elements, most notably combining the two male leads of the novel, Alec and Angel, into Ahmed's Jay. Neither change is particularly problematic; it's easy to see why the decision was made. Instead, the problem comes from Winterbottom seemingly forgetting what made his previous adaptations work.
But, in all fairness, Winterbotttom doesn't give her very much to work with. For a start, while his eye for modern-day India is more authentic and less flashy than Danny Boyle's in 'Slumdog,' he doesn't really set up the world that well. It's a major plot point that even in this day and age, a relationship between Trishna and Jay would be frowned up on in Rajasthan, not in Bombay, but it's not made clear until late in the film and never really explained why, which means that the stakes feel minimal throughout.
For the second occasion in recent memory ("Like Crazy" was the most recent offender), the semi-improvised approach has proven to be something of a self-thwarting one -- it might give it some degree of authenticity, but it also makes it, frankly, kind of boring; functional, sure, but no one has anything very interesting to say. And ultimately, all the authenticity in the world doesn't mean a thing if there's no life to it.
By the end, it's drifting into self parody, much of the last 40 minutes of the film being made up of endless shots of Trishna bringing Jay food on a tray. It all looks as good as you'd expect, Winterbottom's usual DoP Marcel Zyskind delivering some glorious work in places. And again, the music is terrific, with fine work from Shigeru Umebayashi (with songs from Amit Trivedi). But the meat of the film is sadly, a tedious misstep for a director who, even when he's experimented in the past, has generally come up with something more interesting than this. It is, however, still better than "9 Songs" [D]
This is a reprint of our review from the London Film Festival 2011.