Lies We Tell is the debut feature for Mitu Misra, a British-Indian film director who also wrote the film’s story – the screenplay adaptation was done by Ewen Glass and Andy McDermott, two accomplished authors of the thriller genre. The film had its world premiere during this year’s edition of Raindance and – especially for a debut indie feature – it boasts an impressive lineup of actors: Gabriel Byrne, Sibylla Deen, Mark Addy, Jan Uddin and Harvey Keitel.
Its story takes us between three worlds of a smaller British town, mixing and matching people of different ages, social classes, religions and cultural backgrounds. It begins with the death of an old, rich man Demi (Keitel) – his last order to his trusted driver Donald (Byrne) is to remove all evidence of his affair with the young British-Pakistani lawyer-in-training, Amber (Deen). Instead of completing what at first seems to be a simple task, Donald soon finds himself pulled into Amber’s complicated world and her continuing family issues – when she was merely 16, her parents forced her into an arranged marriage with her cousin, KD (Uddin). She and KD made an agreement to eventually mutually end the marriage, but KD raped her instead. She managed to free herself and divorce him by lying, but the past comes back in what seems to be a chilling repeat of the events – her family arranges another marriage for KD, who is now a violent, infamous gang leader – this time, he’s to marry Amber’s sixteen-year-old sister Miriam. Donald and Amber form an unlikely friendship and soon join forces to liberate Miriam, but things rapidly spiral out of control when Amber faces the danger of her affair with Demi being revealed to her Muslim community.
The film addresses several important topics, such as feminism and feminine liberation within a male-dominated culture that is trying to preserve its old ways in a new world; the themes are further enforced by moments of powerful dialogue – especially the exchanges between the infallible, steadfast Donald and the honest, emancipated Amber; both Byrne and Deen delivered praiseworthy performances. One of the most important exchanges ultimately comes from the “fire-starter” Amber when she confronts her father and tells him he might as well have been a pimp instead of a father – her courage is the one that shakes all persons involved, including Donald’s character as he slowly turns from a stagnant man into a man of action.
Given its approach and setting, there are many things that Lies We Tell does right, but the debut features not only hits – there is a number of misses as well. Given its complex story structure, the story seems to be too packed with information and action at certain times, and is too slow-moving at other times; the overall tempo could be better. In general, it seems as if the writers and the director felt the need to pack as much story into the film’s run as possible, but by doing so, left a couple of gaping holes – in the beginning, the focus is on Amber’s brother, but he is promptly ditched (though he still appears occasionally) and we suddenly get Miriam’s story-line instead – it ultimately feels like he was merely a stock character that was left in focus for too long. Same goes for KD and his pregnant mistress – we get the message, but did she really need that much screen time? The time we spend investing in both of these characters could have been better spent, perhaps to iron out the erratic tempo of some of the major events that take place in the film.
Overall, Lies We Tell makes for a solid debut feature – it will be interesting to see what mileage will bring to Mitu Misra and his future work.
Written by Sanja Struna
All photos © 2016 Spotlight Pictures