Judge Paul Pritchard advises against swimming in London River—that is, unless you have a taste for sewage.
"Where's my daughter?"
When the news breaks of a terrorist attack on London, Elizabeth (Brenda Blethyn, Pride and Prejudice) leaves her remote farm on the isle of Guernsey, heading to the mainland in the hope of locating her daughter who lives in the capital. Arriving in London, Elizabeth finds a city in turmoil and a populace far more diverse than she is familiar—or comfortable—with.
The predominantly Muslim neighborhood in which her daughter lives presents a world that is alien to Elizabeth. When it is suggested her daughter was in the process of converting to Islam, Elizabeth's prejudices come to the fore. However, a chance meeting with Ousmane (Sotigui Kouyate), who has traveled from France to locate his son following the attacks, forces Elizabeth to reassess her beliefs, as the two pool their efforts to find their children.
London River offers a very personal, somber view of the July 7, 2005, terrorist attacks on London that is, in truth, guilty of being naïve on occasion. Although the atrocities act as the catalyst, it is the way differing cultures come together in times of grief that is the film's main focus; it is the often unsubtle way that the film reminds us that "our lives aren't all that different" that—though undoubtedly true—serves to undermine this otherwise stellar picture by spelling out the obvious.
The film often fails to capture the sheer scale of a city like London, as characters—most notably Elizabeth and Ousmane—repeatedly bump into each other far too often for supposedly random meetings. Even worse is the lack of complexity to the film's narrative, which offers little in the way of surprise. You'd be hard pressed not to figure out how things will end before even the opening act has drawn to a close.
Such complaints are (almost) rendered mute thanks to the performance of Brenda Blethyn. Synonymous with Mike Leigh's (Secrets and Lies) gritty kitchen sink dramas, Blethyn is amongst the very best actresses working in film today. She delivers as natural a performance as one could wish for. Elizabeth is, first and foremost, a worried mother. Though her daughter has long fled the nest, Elizabeth has lost none of her maternal instincts. Taken from the comfort of her home on the island of Guernsey and thrust into the multicultural city of London, Elizabeth keeps her guard up to the point of being offensive. This is especially true when Elizabeth comes into contact with members of the city's large ethnic community. When the suggestion is made that her daughter, Jane, was in the process of converting to Islam, Elizabeth—herself a protestant—is appalled by the idea. However, Elizabeth's reaction is not one born of hatred, but rather ignorance. To this end, the character of Ousmane is not just someone with whom Elizabeth is able to share her suffering with; she'll also come to better understand that, beneath our race, color, and creed, we all share the same basic needs. Sotigui Kouyate complements Blethyn beautifully, as both deliver understated performances that perfectly capture the shared pain of two parents desperate to find their children.
Presented in a 1.78:1 anamorphic transfer, London River looks excellent on DVD. Though hardly demo material, the disc provides a sharp picture, full of detail and natural colors. Though the stereo soundtrack is hard to fault, providing clear dialogue throughout, it seems odd the 5.1 mix found on the Region 2 release is absent. Also missing from the Region 2 release is the supplemental material. Instead Cinema Libre has put out a vanilla disc that loses the release some points.
With London River, writer-director Rachid Bouchareb has produced an absorbing, and thought-provoking look at how terrorism has not only created an atmosphere of fear, but had a negative impact on cross-cultural relations. It's hardly entertaining—considering the subject matter, that's hardly surprising—but recommended viewing nonetheless.
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Studio: Cinema Libre
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