Director Michael Winterbottom has never made the same movie twice with a repertoire that ranges from war movie ("Welcome to Sarajevo") to documentary ("The Shock Doctrine"), from English comedy ("The Trip," "Tristram Shandy") to Texas psychodrama ("The Killer Inside Me") but resetting Thomas Hardy's 1891 tragedy Tess of the D'Urbervilles in modern India sounds like a stretch.
The setting turns out to make perfect sense, as India today embodies Hardy's clash between the proscribed roles of women and the heroine's striving for freedom.
Trishna (played by "Slumdog Millionaire" beauty Freida Pinto) leaves her family in a backward village for a job in a hotel in Jaipur, but she finds herself falling for the hotel owner's son, Jay (Riz Ahmed). Trishna returns in disgrace and is sent off to work for her uncle. She escapes with Jay to Mumbai, where love and the allure of Bollywood offer her everything she could desire, if not for Jay's crippling possessiveness and jealousy.
Winterbottom (who also wrote the screenplay) uses Hardy's durable story to paint a striking portrait of India, caught between 21st-century culture and ancient traditions. Pinto is ravishing, but also compelling as the young woman who struggles to create her own identity in a world that won't let her.
Opens Friday, Aug. 17, at the Broadway Centre Cinemas; rated R for sexuality, some violence, drug use and language; in English and in Hindi with subtitles; 113 minutes. For more movie reviews, visit nowsaltlake.com/movies.