By Meg Shields
It’s been eight years since Tarsem Singh released a movie. But that pales in comparison to the twenty years it took him to make Dear Jassi, a tragedy whose twists and turns would be unbelievable and overwrought if not for the horrifying fact that they really happened.
The film dramatizes the events that led up to the murder of 24-year-old Jaswinder ‘Jassi’ Kaur, an Indo-Canadian woman who was the victim of an honour killing orchestrated by her mother and uncle. Jassi’s murder—and the ongoing efforts to bring her killers to justice—are well-known to Canadians. For Tarsem’s part, this tragedy, this real-life echo of Romeo and Juliet, became an obsession; a backburner that simmered for decades while he made a name for himself making bold maximalist fantasies like The Cell, The Fall, and Immortals.
Dear Jassi is both Tarsem’s most grounded and most personal film. And while long-suffering Tarsem heads may lament the lack of operatic crossfades and psycho-sexual costuming, the film’s intentional lack of expressionistic flourishes feels like the appropriate choice. Whether or not the film does enough to adequately prepare its audience for its shocking conclusion is another matter. Those in the know will feel the dread-filled undercurrent behind the teenage romance, bureaucratic hurtles, and wedding receptions. Meanwhile, those unaware of the event may find the film’s final act jarring; shock for shock’s sake rather than a truthful, and appropriately unpalatable depiction of a doomed romance cut short by deadly tradition. Like much of Tarsem’s work, Dear Jassi will be divisive. But it’s a story that deserves to be told mindfully and with discipline. In no small part to his past bombast and formalism, Tarsem was the one to tell it.