Eye For Film >> Movies >> The River (2002) Film Review
Reviewed by: Keith Hennessey Brown
After killing a gang boss, Alfa (Gallic rap star Stomy Bugsy) embarks on a journey to the land of his ancestors. Arriving at his uncle's in Senegal, he immediately attracts the attention of his cousin Marie (Aurelie Coulibaly). Borrowing her father's 4x4, she invites herself along, as Alfa's ride. Initially reluctant, he soon finds her knowledge of local ways invaluable. Meantime, unbeknownst to the cousins, a hitman from France is on their trail...
Half an hour in and I was about ready to give up on The River. The opening scene - coming across like a grittier version of Ghost Dog - had set up expectations that the subsequent gentle romantic comedy/road movie seemed determined to dash. Was this another one of those Festival films that starts off brilliantly, only to then prove devoid of direction?
Happily not. The film just takes its time, proceeding at a leisurely - quintessentially African? - pace. As we progress, it becomes apparent how skilfully director/co-writer Mama Keita has juxtaposed flashbacks to Alfa's life in France with his ongoing African journey of self-discovery, deploying contrasting visual styles - France predominantly grainy, dark and hazy; Africa bright, clear and expansive - to particularly good effect.
While the developing rapprochment between French and African identities, as represented by the flow of the relationship between Alfa and Marie, is clearly a dominant theme of the film, it's also refreshing to see an honest, somewhat sceptical treatment of culture and identity, with Alfa at first regarding the locals as backwards, whilst they see him as an easy mark.
Good, but not great, The River serves as a fitting tribute to its co-writer David Achkar, who died during the production.Reviewed on: 19 Aug 2003