The River (1951)

Narrator: "Captain John went from place to place, not knowing what to do with himself. He wandered along the river... and on its shores he found a different life."
By Jean Renoir
With Patricia Walters, Thomas E. Breen and June Hillman

I think I ran into this movie on a list of multicultural films. I was intrigued by the renowned director Jean Renoir, who directed La Grande Illusion (1937), as well as the fact that it was an English-spoken movie in India.

The River tells the story of a British family living in post world war colonial India. They have 5 or 6 daughters and only one young boy. The father owns a jute factory and they seem to be living in a very happy harmony. Their neighbor is another Englishman who has an half-Indian young girl. When her cousin, a young war veteran in his twenties comes to stay with them, tensions arise as Valerie, the eldest girl of the family, Harriet, the second oldest--who is also the narrator--and Melanie, the half-Indian girl, all find themselves attracted to the same young man, simply known as Captain John.

The River is slow paced like the stream of the river, which contrasts deeply with the youth and energy of all those children and the endless train of men working in the jute factory. We find ourselves immersed in the banks of the river, the bazaars, the different festivals and how these English families celebrate them along their helps and other locals. It is beautifully filmed, which is worth noting, as it started the career of Satyajit Ray, who worked here as an uncredited assistant, but went on to become one of, if not the, most famous Indian director of all time.

The story is not necessarily original. It is a classic tale of boundaries, unrequited love, cultural identities and self-discoveries. The youngest, Harriet, is clearly the most developed character as not only is she doing the narration--through an older self voice--we learn about how she deals with her romantic interests through her writing of poetry. Melanie, the half-Indian girl, is not as developed as we only know that she seems to have issues developing her identity after having been sent to a Western school and that Indian women can't declare their love. Valerie, the eldest, is also a shadowy character, she seems to have such a strong personality, but it seems to only shine in her efforts to block all roads her younger sister could take to spend time with Captain John alone.

In the end, the film works because we are not faced with drastic choices. The film focuses a lot on our troubles as simply ways to start again, to be reborn. Maybe it was one of the themes that was being explored by not only setting it in India, but also exploring some of the Hindu deities and their faith in reincarnation.

I liked: Not overtly romanticized. Respectful. Beautiful to the eye through scenes of wildlife, bazaars, festivals and animals.

I disliked: Some events are quite predictable. Seems to campaign for more pregnancies. Some very mysterious/underdeveloped characters.

I think it's a good film if you want access to classical Indian films, as it is in English, but a transition to Satyajit Ray's movies afterwards would be very easy. It is not telling the most interesting story, but don't look for the beauty in the story, but in how it is told.


Post a Comment