An epic drama that looks at a series of interlocking stresses faced by a trio of women in different parts of the world, The Braid takes material that could’ve been straightforward and melodramatic and ensures that the final results are realistic and relatable. In adapting her own bestselling novel of the same name, writer-director Laetitia Colombani weaves together three stories of perseverance and hardship with gentility, empathy, and a good degree of intelligence. It doesn’t quite stick the landing with an uneasy, but empowering resolution, but everything up to that point is reasoned, stylish, and well performed.
In Nyamatabad, located in Northern India, Smita (Mia Maelzer) is an “untouchable,” a member of the lowest possible caste, who makes ends meet cleaning up after people who treat her family as if they are some sort of disease. Smita dreams of giving her daughter an education, but when prejudices against her family get in the way, she makes a bold plan to make a sudden move from the North to the South, where they might be treated better and be afforded slightly more opportunities. In Monopoli, located in Southern Italy, Giulia (Fotinì Peluso), is struggling to keep her family and their legacy hair extension business afloat after her father (Mimmo Mancini) suffers a terrible accident. And in Montreal, lawyer and divorced mother of three Sarah (Kim Raver) finds her personal and professional life rocked following a cancer diagnosis.
The Braid places the experience of these three women on equal footing, and gives each of the actresses playing them plenty to work with and lots of insightful, delicate character beats throughout. Each of the storylines has its own feel and tone that’s reflective of the stakes, emotions, and difficulties faced. The portions set in India have a harrowing intensity and danger to them, and it’s often shot with a documentary styled sense of realism. The story set in Italy has a sweeping, romantic feeling, a nice reflection of a key subplot involving Giulia’s budding (and, sadly, culturally frowned upon) relationship with a local Sikh man (Avi Nash). The Canadian section uses cold, brutalism for the city set portions, and a brighter palate for depictions of Sarah’s home life, which adds a degree of further relatability. Cinematographer Ronald Plante does a wonderful job of creating a unifying visual motif by always taking time to mount long shots that allow viewers to process the finer details of every space and location, and composer Ludovico Einaudi has crafted a luscious, equally cohesive score that works for all of Colombani’s settings.
I’m sure it would be tempting for Colombani to try to cram as much as she could from her own source material into a single volume film, but The Braid manages a lot of depth and nuance from a two hour version of such a large trio of stories. Nothing feels missing from any of these narratives, and all of them are handled with equal importance. The most beautiful aspect of The Braid is its ability to look at issues unique to women under very specific cultural and economic circumstances without speaking down to them or feeling reductive. On a passing glance, some of the story elements might seem more pressing and important than others, but Colombani and her performers all find ways of ensuring the audience feels an equal amount of empathy for all three women.
All of them experience some form of cruelty. They’re forced into making tough, life changing decisions for the betterment of their families. Sometimes their own personal happiness has to take a backseat to the needs of their loved ones. Each of them keeps secrets to prevent causing more harm to those they’re trying to protect and shield. They take on lots of pain, and while they don’t internalize all of it, there’s tremendous weight on their shoulders. While eventually The Braid does come around to a concrete, tangible connection between the three women, the most powerful moments speak to a shared human experience and what it means to be female and under tremendous stress.
It’s that final connection, however, the brings The Braid down somewhat. It’s a well telegraphed twist if viewers have been paying close attention to everything going on, and while it makes sense, the actual resolution to The Braid raises some cultural and ethical questions that are left dangling in the breeze in favour of sending things out on a somewhat uplifting note after asking a lot of the audience up to that point. It serves a specific purpose, but also rings somewhat sour at the same time. Everything before that is really great, though, and The Braid still deserves a lot of credit for its overall ambition, scope, and balance. I don’t begrudge the conclusion of The Braid entirely, but it’s hard not to wish Colombani had taken her exploration of what it means to be a woman one step further. That would’ve made this near perfect.
The Braid opens in select Canadian cities starting Friday, January 19, 2024.
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