London River

London River

***

Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

After last year's ludicrously plotted examination of a London terror blast aftermath, Incendiary, it is something of a relief to find Rachid Bouchareb adopting a much more sedate and believable tone in tackling the same issue. Although London River flows rather more sluggishly than it ought to through the lives of its protagonists, it nevertheless raises interesting questions about prejudice and suspicion borne out of a climate of fear. In fact, if fear can eat the soul, this film offers a banquet.

The action begins far from the madding crowds of London, with a tranquil, pastoral air, setting up its two may protagonists in their 'natural environment'. Brenda Blethyn is Elisabeth, a mumsy, widowed gardener type, on Guernsey, who likes to feel the soil between her fingers. Meanwhile, Sotigui Kouyaté - who won a Silver Bear for his performance - plays Ousmane, an enigmatic African, first seen praying to Mecca in rural France. When the news breaks of the July 7th tube and bus bombings in London, their paths are, of course, destined to converge.


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Elisabeth tries to phone her daughter, Jane, and as her concern begins to grow, decides to head to London. Upon arrival she is confronted with a reality wildly different to the one she has imagined, when she finds her daughter living in the multi-ethnic Finsbury Park area over a halal shop. Meeting with sympathetic uselessness from the overworked local constabulary she does what so many other Londoners did in the wake of the bomb attacks and pins photos of her daughter up around the local area.

Ousmane is also in London, sent by his estranged wife to hunt for his son, Ali. His quest is further complicated by the fact that he only speaks French and hasn't seen his son since he was six years old. Asking around at the local mosque proves (somewhat unbelievably) fruitful, however, as a local imam recognises his son and gives him a photo of him... a photo which shows him with Jane. Ousmane spots Elisabeth's poster and gets in touch - but her reaction is one of disbelief and denial rather than gratitude. The question is, will she be able to overcome her prejudices and join forces with him in the hunt for their children?

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Bouchareb is less concerned with world politics than he is with the smaller orbits that individuals inhabit. He uses real archive news footage to set the scene well, but then draws back from the 'front page' to take a look at the lives spun into chaos by such a catastrophic event. Although Elisabeth has the sort of latent prejudice against the unknown all too common in society, her reactions are steeped in something much more familial and more complex - the fear of discovering you don't really know the person you thought you knew inside out. Just as Ousmane is discovering his son 'the stranger' - and grappling with the twin fears of what he may have become and what may have become of him - Elisabeth has to lose her perceived mental image of her daughter before she can move any closer to finding her in a physical sense.

These emotional explorations are the life-blood of London River, but they are clogged up by the weight of sorrow running through it. The tone is so unremittingly melancholic that it, peversely, results in us becoming inured to Elisabeth's emotion rather than connected to it and there are at least two endings too many. Worth a look but too contemplative for its own good.

Reviewed on: 06 Oct 2009
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Two parents from very different backgrounds hunt their missing children after the London terror attacks.
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Director: Rachid Bouchareb

Writer: Rachid Bouchareb

Starring: Brenda Blethyn, Sotigui Kouyaté, Sami Bouajila, Roschdy Zem

Year: 2009

Runtime: 87 minutes

Country: UK, France


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