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Originally published Thursday, July 19, 2012 at 1:05 PM

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'Trishna': India provides lush backdrop in 'Tess of the D'Urbervilles' remake

Writer-director Michael Winterbottom's film of Thomas Hardy's "Tess of the D'Urbervilles" transports the story to modern India. Lush and lusty, it features a Bollywood subplot and an irresistible east-meets-west score.

Special to The Seattle Times

Movie review 3 stars

'Trishna,' with Freida Pinto, Riz Ahmed, Roshan Seth. Written and directed by Michael Winterbottom, based on Thomas Hardy's novel, "Tess of the D'Urbervilles." 113 minutes. Rated R for sexuality, some violence, drug use and language. Harvard Exit.

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Sixteen years ago, Michael Winterbottom tried to film Thomas Hardy's great last novel, "Jude the Obscure," but the uneven result found success only as a vehicle for Kate Winslet.

In 2000, Winterbottom relocated Hardy's "The Mayor of Casterbridge" to the 1860s California gold rush, retitling it "The Claim." The result was even less focused.

He's done much better by Hardy this time, relocating the author's 1891 novel, "Tess of the D'Urbervilles," to modern India and combining the title character's two lovers, Angel Clare and Alec D'Urberville, into one reckless example of male arrogance.

No longer tied to specific plot points and characters, Winterbottom has taken a boldly feminist approach to the story of a tragic heroine whose inherent intelligence and sense of fate is misunderstood.

Freida Pinto (the heroine of "Slumdog Millionaire") plays Tess (or Trishna) as a poor teenager who allows herself to be courted by Jay (Riz Ahmed), a wealthy young businessman. (Ray's father is played by the wonderful character actor Roshan Seth, who easily dominates his few minutes on-screen.)

Featuring a Bollywood subplot and an irresistible East-meets-West score, the movie is lush and lusty: both a strong vehicle for Pinto and a good match for Winterbottom's impressionistic style.

It's also about an hour shorter than Roman Polanski's Oscar-winning "Tess" (1980) and Ian Sharp's forgotten 1998 British TV adaptation, but it still captures that sharp sense of place that made Hardy's original a classic.

While India may offer a very different milieu than the Dorset woodlands that inspired Hardy's most memorable fiction, Marcel Zyskind's widescreen cinematography makes a similarly strong connection.

According to Hardy's biographer, Claire Tomalin, "Tess" was a book that "divided families and broke up friendships" when it was first published. Winterbottom certainly doesn't hold back in that regard. He gives it an edge that, especially in its final act, is devastating.

John Hartl:

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