Lies We Tell Review
A British man and a Muslim woman’s lives become dangerously intertwined
Mitu Misra’s debut film Lies We Tell shines a light on a muslim community in the north of England and how its members try to negotiate life within British culture.In September 2017 the film held its world premiere in London, having been selected for the 25th Raindance Film Festival and went on to play at a number of other film festivals. First time directer Mitu Misra relied on his own experiences growing up in England as a second generation immigrant when he came up with the idea for this film. Wanting to delve into a world that is infrequently presented in the media, Misra hoped to unabashedly shine a light on the darker corners of northern life and deliver an honest and hard hitting depiction of British society, one that lives by its own laws. The unexpected and sudden death of billionaire business man Demi (Harvey Keitel) causes more than just the expected grief for his family and friends, specifically for his chauffeur and confidant Donald (Gabriel Byrne).
You see, Demi wasn’t as squeaky clean as he would have his family believe. Tucked away for those extra special (and marital) occasions is Amber (Sibylla Deen), his Muslim mistress, who Donald has to now erase any sign of, lest Demi’s wife and family find out. A simple task you may imagine, but it is in clearing up Demi’s secret apartment that Donald’s life inextricably becomes intertwined with Amber's. Donald is initially unwillingly pushed into the position of Amber’s protector and surrogate father figure but as time goes on Donald finds in Amber something that he had been missing in his life. Together Donald and Amber find themselves caught up between the conflicts of Muslim tradition and British modern living, not to mention a sinister criminal underworld led by Amber’s cousin.
Lies We Tell is the first film to be written and directed by Misra, who up until now has had zero experience in the film world other than taking pleasure in watching films. On the surface the story at the heart of the film is a solid one, that has the potential resonate with a decent percentage of the audience. The attempt to negotiate cultural and religious traditions of immigrant parents with the world outside of the home, essentially a British world, is something I’m sure many second generation immigrants face and battle with. There have already been a number of British films that have attempted to bring this conflict to the big screen, My Beautiful Launderette, My Brother The Devil and East is East to name a few, and each have managed to be poignant and well balanced.
The trouble with Lies We Tell is that a lot has been crammed into the fairly short running time of 109 minutes and as a result the film relies on montages that skim over details and jump from place to place. I fully appreciate that this being Misra’s first film, it is undoubtably going to have it’s issues but it is just a shame that these problems stuck out so much. If anything, this would have made a wonderful mini series, allowing proper character development and the chance to show at least a counter representation of what came across as, in my opinion, a stereotypical Muslim culture.
A good effort for first time writer and directer Mitu Misra but unfortunately it doesn’t quite hit the mark
The film does have it’s strengths which predominantly come from the cast. Despite Keitel’s name being attached to this film, he is only in it for all of five minutes leaving Byrne and Deen to take up the remaining limelight. Byrne’s Donald is a man dealing with the grief of both a familial loss and the loss of his boss, placing him in a state of flux. Byrne is quite restrained in his role but this is perfectly befitting of the character and thus allows any moments of outburst to feel all the more emotional and intense.
Deen’s Amber, whilst unquestionably charming and delicate at times, suffers slightly because her acting style comes across as more suited to a soap opera or a dramatic TV series. It feels as though Misra wasn’t entirely sure what Amber’s motivations were and this results in a slightly fractured character. The character of Amber is clearly used in an attempt to represent a modern muslim woman but it felt as though Misra wasn’t committed enough and was tip toeing around what could have been a great character. In a smaller role we have Mark Addy, as Donald’s brother-in-law, who offers up some light comedic relief; Emily Atack as Tracey, a young woman in way over her head and Gina McKee as Donald’s ex-wife.
Lies We Tell is a good effort from first time filmmaker Misra but it doesn’t quite hit the mark. There are a few positives to be taken from this film but unfortunately the negatives outweigh them. It’s entertaining for the most part but ultimately it's slightly stereotypical of the subject matter and too happy to skip over some key plot points.
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