There have so many love stories made in Hollywood, or even in any part of the globe, that it is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to make a unique love story. When I say unique, I mean not just in terms of the story itself, but also the treatment. So, I went into ‘Brooklyn’ with certain circumspection knowing fully well that a period love story has only so much to play around with. But boy, was I wrong !
‘Brooklyn’, even with its simple premise, is an astounding achievement both in terms of its originality and its rendering of a touching emotional story. The experience of watching ‘Brooklyn’ is like discovering a goldmine, or even better, a rare gem. It surprises and amazes you at every single turn. Whether it be the deftly handled love story or the sensitive portrayal of immigrants or even the particularity of details of the period in which the film is based, everything pitch perfect.
Set in 1950s, ‘Brooklyn’ is a story of a young Irish woman Eilis Lacey (Saoirse Ronan), who wants to move to America, but to do that she’ll be leaving her mother and sister behind. With the help of her sister and a priest living in Brooklyn, Eilis is somehow able to reach America after making a difficult journey by ship. Once in Brooklyn, Eilis has difficulty getting used to the new world. She feels out-of-place and homesick. It is here that ‘Brooklyn’ is a touching reminder of how much immigrants had to go through — and they still go through — to move to America. They leave their country, their people, their culture, their language behind to settle in a foreign land. The decision of choosing between your homeland and your opportunity-filled future is extraordinarily painful one to make for an immigrant, and this perplexity is heartbreakingly portrayed in the film. There is certain universality in the way the pains of immigrants are depicted in the film and you don’t necessarily have to be Irish to be moved by it. Anyone who has left his home for studies or for work can certainly relate to that feeling.
Coming back to the plot of the film. Over the course of next few months in Brooklyn, Eilis slowly but surely finds her footing once she starts taking part-time book-keeping classes. She meets a nice Italian young man named Tony (Emory Cohen) and both fall in love with each other. Both plan to get married and spend the life together. So far so good. But in a twist of fate and circumstances, Eilis has to return to Ireland, but not before she promises Tony that she will come back. Once back in Ireland, Eilis faces the extraordinary challenge of choosing between two men and two countries.
As a love story, ‘Brooklyn’ is a vastly refreshing change to what we are normally used to seeing on big screen. It breaks many cliches of a “typical” love story in movies. My biggest complaint against the “typical” love story in movies is that women are mostly there just to look beautiful and cry, while men get to do all the thinking/earning/fighting, which means, inadvertently, men are also portrayed to be the smarter ones. To put this in contrast, in ‘Brooklyn’, Eilis is studying to become an accountant, whereas Tony is a plumber and virtually illiterate. She is also wittier, wiser and smarter out of the two. This is also subtly communicated in the film by the fact that Tony is never shown complimenting Eilis on her beauty — usually, in love stories, a woman’s beauty is alluded to be of prime importance — but is rather in awe of Eilis’ intelligence. I don’t know about others, but I found this reversal of roles a breath of fresh air.
John Crowly, the director of ‘Brooklyn’, is not a well-known name — though, he will certainly become one after ‘Brooklyn’ — but his mature handling of the subject matter at the center tells a lot about his skills and his though-process. He doesn’t experiment with the narrative but rather lets the powerful story take hold of the audiences. The cleverly written screenplay (which is an adaptation of the book of the same name) and the exceptional Saoirse Ronan ensure that every moment in the film is beautiful and affecting. Ronan has been nominated once for an Oscar for her performance in ‘Atonement’ and it will be a travesty of highest order if she doesn’t get nominated again for her indescribably wonderful performance is ‘Brooklyn’. The transition of Eilis from a vulnerable Irish immigrant young girl to a confident and smart woman is so distinctly observable only because of Ronan’s intelligent performance.
I don’t know whether everyone can or will appreciate the subtle beauty of ‘Brooklyn’. But if you are sensitive enough, the film will astonish you with its simplicity and at the same time, it will touch you with its moving story. It is not just the best film I saw this year at Middleburg Film Festival, but also the best of all that I have seen this year, and I won’t be surprised if it remains so when the year ends.