Home Video Hovel- London River, by Mattijs Grannetia
On July 7, 2005 Europe was shaken to its core by four bombings in London, England. Fifty-two people were killed and hundreds more injured by a coordinated attack on London’s public transport during rush hour. This incident added a whole new level to the distrust and fear of the Muslim community that was already there because of the incidents on September 11, 2001. In London River, against this background, director Rachid Bouchareb paints a heartbreaking story about two parents looking for their children.
Elisabeth lives on Guernsey, a British island just off the coast of France. Her daughter Jane has left the safety of her parental home two years ago to go live in London. When the attacks on July 7, 2005 occurred Elisabeth tries to get a hold of Jane, but gets no answer. She travels to London to go find her daughter. What she finds doesn’t diminish her anguish. Jane’s apartment is empty and the neighborhood she lives in is inhabited by predominantly Muslim people. When she also finds out that Jane’s boyfriend, whose father is also looking for his son, is a Muslim the anxiety goes through the roof. She sees danger everywhere in these unfamiliar surroundings.
During her search Elisabeth keeps running into Ousmane, who happens to be the father of Ali, Jane’s boyfriend. He is looking for his son, although he hasn’t seen him since he left when the boy was six years old. This tall and thin man roams the streets of London seemingly unperturbed by everything that is happening around him, but his eyes tell a different story. Ousmane is played by Sotigui Kouyaté, a North African actor who could be seen in Stephen Frears’ Dirty Pretty Things. He won the Silver Bear award in Berlin for his role as Ousmane. His performance is not as showy as one might expect. He doesn’t say much at all during the movie. As the movie progresses he starts to tell his story more and more with his eyes and demeanor. It is an extraordinary performance that demands to be watched a second time to pick up on all the subtleties.
Elisabeth is very different from Ousmane. She wears her heart on her sleeve and there is nobody better for this type of role than Brenda Blethyn. She made name for herself with her down-to-earth role in Mike Leigh’s Secrets & Lies in which she also played a mother who ventures into unknown territory and finds herself lost. Elisabeth is exactly like that. She is totally lost in this strange world full of people who go to mosques and speak Arabic. When you come from a sheltered life like hers, this other world would scare you too. Blethyn shows this angst on her face, because Elisabeth is not somebody who is good at hiding these emotions. She frequently bumps into Ousmane and they both start to suspect that these encounters are not so coincidental. Their acquaintance starts to grow into a friendship that helps them get through these troubled times and that’s what this movie is all about.
Although an event as horrific as the 7/7 bombings can polarize a population and make tempers run high, it can also be used to come closer together as people. The actions of a few individuals with delusional ideas don’t mean everybody is suspect. It is heartwarming to see somebody like Elisabeth, who is terrified at first, find solace in the arms of this enormous gaunt man with dreadlocks. London River is not a complicated movie and it doesn’t need to be. It tells a story about very basic human emotions that are present in all of us. The emotional content is heightened even further when you have kids of your own, because losing your kids in any way shape or form is one of the scariest things imaginable for a parent.
The London River Blu-ray doesn’t have much to offer in the way of extras. Besides some trailers for other movies there is a short interview with director Bouchareb in which he talks about his intentions for this movie, his process and why he wanted these actors. Interesting, but a little short. There are subtitles throughout the movie for the non-English spoken dialogue. For the English spoken bits you are on your own. The picture is nice and crisp to show you all the nooks and crannies of London in HD glory. The use of actual footage from the bombings make the events even more intense.
London River is a beautiful, haunting movie that should be seen by everyone.