Monday, January 29, 2018

Lies We Tell: Where Two Englands Intersect

The legal age for marriage in the United Kingdom is a reasonable eighteen, but it is allowed for those as young as sixteen, provided there is parental consent. Apparently, that consent is easily granted within the Islamic “South Asian” enclaves in cities like Bradford. That is something an Irish-Anglo chauffeur probably never considered very much, until he takes a protective interest in his late boss’s Pakistani mistress, who finds herself at odds with the misogyny of her family and community in Mitu Misra’s Lies We Tell (trailer here), which opens this Friday in New York.

Demi Lamprose always told his chauffeur Donald, the only cheating husbands who get caught are the ones that do not love their wives enough to sufficiently cover their tracks. Presumably, he also thought enough about Amber to want to shield her from the shame such an affair would cause her Muslim family. It falls on the loyal driver to clean out the love nest, where he has the unfortunate duty of breaking the bad news to Amber. It is an awkward meeting that get even more awkward due to an unlikely chain of circumstances. However, when Amber reaches out, asking Donald to take care of some revealing photos on Lamprose’s phone, trust starts to develop between the two.

Donald and the viewers soon learn Amber is already a half-pariah in her community, despite her education and legal career, because she divorced KD, a rising Bradford gangster she was forced to marry when she was sixteen. She certainly had her reasons. However, in an act of sadistic parity, KD is now determined to marry her freshly sixteen-year-old sister Miriam—and her parents are only too happy to consent.

LWT is a scrupulously realistic film, which is terrifying. There is no way to sugarcoat the truth of the matter. Misra is depicting customs and behavior that is flat out misogynistic and essentially tribal in nature. Lest viewers have a kneejerk reaction, it should be noted Misra grew up in Bradford’s immigrant communities, but as a successful entrepreneur-turned filmmaker, he developed a wider perspective.

Granted, there are some first-time filmmaker mistakes to be found here. For instance, there is a pretentious bit of business at the end that is sure to elicit laughs at exactly the wrong time. However, the whole of this film is far more important than a few scattered parts like that. Indeed, some of the dialogue rings with significance, as when Amber’s mother accusingly asks why she always judges the family by British standards. We can see she wants to reply: because we are British and live in England, but she obviously knows that would be a mistake.

Sibylla Deen is terrific as Amber. It is a tough role, because sometimes the character is selfish and unlikable, but Deen really gets at her underlying vulnerabilities and makes her human. Gabriel Byrne reliably anchors the film as Donald, really lowering the boom in key moments. Having Harvey Keitel so prominent on the posters is somewhat deceptive, since Lamprose dies after the first five or ten minutes, but he is fine during the time. Jan Uddin’s KD is certainly a fierce villain, but Manzar Sehbai gives the film heft and complicated dimension with his powerful performance as Amber’s cowardly father, Zulfikar.

It is unusual to find on-screen a completely platonic relationship between two attractive and mature adults, played by the likes of Deen and Byrne, but that central relationship is what so distinguishes Lies We Tell. It is a very good film and an eye-opening reflection of “multicultural” British society as it is lived today in urban centers, like Bradford. Highly recommended, it opens this Friday (2/2) in New York, at the Cinema Village.