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Review: Ritesh Batra’s ‘The Sense of an Ending’
What we Remember and What we Forget…
Life would overwhelm us if we didn’t have the twin mechanisms of remembering and forgetting – and what we remember and what we forget is what essentially creates our perceptions of who we are. Is our life what actually happened or is it what we choose to remember?
You get to explore these dilemmas in ‘The Sense of an Ending’, the new film is directed by Ritesh Batra who gave us the much acclaimed and much loved ‘The Lunchbox’ earlier. It is based on the Man Booker prize winning novel by Julian Barnes and takes us into a very different world, the world of Tony Webster (played by Academy award winner Jim Broadbent), a retired reclusive camera store owner in London who is amicably divorced from his wife Margaret and leads a quiet, uneventful life – until a mysterious package arrives, taking him back to the past, to his schooldays and to a romance with his first love Veronica, and ultimately to self-discovery.
Present and past juxtapose as his flawed memories come head to head with realities, with what actually happened. He had lost Veronica Ford to his best friend Adrian Finn and his own actions lead to some devastating events. Now Veronica’s mother, the enigmatic Sarah, has died and has inexplicably left him an amount of money and Adrian’s diary. As Tony immerses himself in the past and sleuths long forgotten events, he discovers it’s all not exactly as he had imagined it and he therefore is not the person he sees in the mirror daily.
The Sense of an Ending
The film – part mystery, part human drama about youthful indiscretions and their repercussions – draws you in and keeps you engrossed as the past unfolds and an ending emerges. But is it really an ending – or just the sense of an ending?
Some wonderful performances from Jim Broadbent as Tony, Harriet Walter as his wife Margaret and Charlotte Rampling as the older Veronica, as well as from Billy Howle as the Young Tony, Freya Mavor as the young Veronica and Emily Mortimer as Sarah Ford. They create the fabric of past and present, of reality and recollection, and Max Richer’s musical score creates the perfect backdrop for this film about remembrance and regret.
Ritesh Batra proves himself adept at distilling people’s lives, no matter what their background. He captures, as in his previous film ‘The Lunchbox’, the minutiae of ordinary lives superbly, the subtle touches, a glance, a gesture. He manages to convey the complexities of the novel in the short span of the movie – especially of a many-layered novel which has people agonizing over the ending even after reading the book a few times!
The ‘Sense of an Ending’ had its world premiere at the Palm Springs International Film Festival. It has received three awards at the Mostly British Film Festival in San Francisco including Jury Prize for Best Film, Best Director, and Best Actor for Jim Broadbent.
I spoke with director Ritesh Batra who was in New York for the release of the film. Asked how ‘The Sense of an Ending’ came about, he said: “I had read the novel many years ago when it first came out in 2011 and I loved it. A few years later I got the offer to direct the film and I came to it for the love of the novel. Nick Payne, the screenwriter, had already written a first draft and from there we started collaborating on it.”
How difficult was it to transport the story from the pages of the book to the screen? “It was much more complex and involved than I had imagined it to be,” said Batra. “A book and movie are different mediums, though they have the same DNA. They are more like cousins – they can’t be siblings.”
As he points out a first-person book when translated to cinema, has to be told through relationships so they found ingenuous ways of expanding the relationships. He recalled that when he had met the author of the book, Julian Barnes, in London, Barnes had cheerfully told him “Go ahead and betray me!” And says Batra, “It gives you license but it also gives you a lot of responsibility to convey the essence of the book through the movie.”
The most rewarding thing for Batra about “The Sense of an Ending” was the deep collaboration with great actors in fleshing out the characters and yet retaining a sense of ambiguity. His next project is once again an adaptation, ‘Our Souls at Night’, starring Robert Redford and Jane Fonda.
Is there a big Bollywood movie in Ritesh Batra’s future? He laughs, “I would love to – I grew up watching Bollywood, so why not?” Of course it would probably be his own take on Bollywood and he would bring his own sensibilities to it.
Ritesh Batra’s films do travel well and resonate with audiences everywhere. Asked as to where he sees his place in the world as he moves between stories and cultures and countries, he said: “That’s a difficult question! The process of making a film takes so long that you have to do things what resonate with you, which speak to you personally. So it’s always something which is close to your heart, one movie at a time.”
(This article was first published in India Abroad )