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Thoughtful and Beautiful...
jasonb8428 January 2003
This is a little known film, but well worth watching if you're lucky enough to find it on Video or TV. The director Jean Renoir is the son of the French Impressionist Painter Pierre Auguste Renoir ( the cinematographer Claude Renoir is Jean's nephew ) and the family talent shines throughout this film, which is beautifully shot. Whether showing the amazing landscape of India and the river itself, the colours and intricacies of the many Indian festivals, or even a close up of Valerie's face as she gazes at Captain John, every frame displays grace, beauty and style that film rarely captures.

The plot itself, how a troubled outsider affects three teenaged girls, is a simple tale, and all the more powerful for it. We've all had a crush, and know the river of emotions that are awakened by one. Each of the three girls, the irrepressible and dramatic Valerie, the talented but awkward Harriet, and the stoic Melanie ( who despite schooling in the West is somehow more Indian in nature than her friends who've been brought up in India ) vie for Captain John's affections in their own way.

However, the real love of this film is India itself - it's fascinating people, beliefs, festivals, and the constant River that runs through them all. It's a slow paced film, not in a hurry to get to any kind of conclusion, and you are immersed in the country, and what it's like to live there. Like relaxing on one of the many river boats, as its floats gently downstream, the film meanders along, showing us different scenes along the way, from the local postman's route to the house gates to the son's fascination with Cobras, with the story always moving on, though always interwoven with more day to day life. This brings a familiar reality to the film, it doesn't just skip moments that might not immediately concern the main characters - like life, other events happen, and they have their place in this film too.

Actually getting to watch this film will be hard, it's not well known ( and not even considered one of Renoir's best ), but if you ever come home one night, flick on the TV, and see this starting, then get comfortable, and enjoy a lovingly made film about a country and the people, both native and foreigners, who live there.
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A great film
ethandre13 October 2004
It's difficult to argue with Gabridl's remarks about the film - and I'm sure Renoir would have pleaded guilty as charged. Of not making a civics lesson. So, if that's what you want out of art, then this is not the film for you. At all. You will learn nothing of Indian politics, the "exoticism" will drive you mad, and you'd do better to go back and re-read Said's "Orientalism," as Gabridl suggests.

Renoir went to India, and made a film from the perspective of an entranced outsider looking in, creating his own, personalized world - not India, but Renoir's world, where everything is transitory, including beauty and death, and where every sight and sound becomes that much more precious.

I am glad that we have come so far since I've been a kid, when so many ideas and prejudices carried over from the colonial era were still floating through the air, and it's true that no one except that most naive among us would make a film like THE RIVER today. But Renoir was alive in 1950, not now, and he made his film for his time, and that time attaches itself to the film, just like it does to every artwork. I doubt that even Gabridl would suggest that it was the work of a craven exploiter of the masses, and that its "faults" are not the faults of a corrupt man, but of a generous and compassionate one. It's one of the most generous films I know of.

Finally, I would add that while this is a film made by a westerner for other westerners, it was certainly inspirational to Satyajit Ray, who worked as Renoir's assistant.
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A great film
Howard Schumann18 April 2005
After a family tragedy, an adolescent girl blurts out angrily at the dinner table, "We just go on as if nothing has happened". "No", her mother responds, "we just go on". The River, Jean Renoir's first color film, is about going on -- the ebb and flow of life that mirrors the path of the sacred river Ganges that flows nearby. Filmed on location in India, The River is a sumptuously beautiful film that was called by Martin Scorsese ""one of the two most beautiful color films ever made" and one of his "most formative movie experiences." The film has been brought to life magnificently in a new Criterion DVD that contains an introduction by Jean Renoir, an interview with Scorsese, and a biography of author Rumer Godden, who grew up in India and whose work formed the basis for Powell and Pressburger's Black Narcissus (1947).

Set in India at the time of independence, its themes are universal: the feeling of being an outsider, of running away from unpleasant situations, and the hopelessly romantic stirring of adolescent love. While the film reflects the point of view of a British colonial family, it is respectful of the surrounding culture and pays homage to Hindu and Buddhist traditions through stories, documentary footage, and dance sequences. Harriet (Patricia Walters) is the adult narrator who looks back on her days as an adolescent. About thirteen in the film, she lives with her four sisters and brother Bogey in a colonial house in India that looks out upon the Ganges. Renoir's camera captures the energy and rhythm of life on the river: its peddlers, ships, markets, people coming and going, the crowds, everything in constant motion juxtaposed with the timeless tranquility of the river.

Harriet's father (Esmond Knight) who lost an eye during the war, runs a jute manufacturing plant while his pregnant wife (Nora Swinburne) takes care of the house, assisted by governess Nan (Suprova Mukerjee). When a young American named Captain John (Thomas E. Breen) comes to visit his cousin Mr. John (Arthur Shields) after losing his leg in the war, his dreams of being left alone are short lived. Harriet becomes infatuated with Captain John but has to contend with two other female admirers: her older friend Valerie (Adrienne Corri), a flaming redhead, and Mr. John's daughter Melanie (Radha Shri Ram), a young woman of mixed ethnicity who was born in India but reared in a British boarding school. The arrival of Captain John brings a clear signal that the girls must face the end of what has been an idyllic childhood.

All feel like outsiders: Melanie is caught between two cultures and questions whether she will ever fit into either, Harriet expresses her adolescent longings in idealistic poetry, Valerie is overwhelmed by her innocent desires, and Captain John is a deeply troubled man who only wants to live a normal life. Although the acting can be a bit wooden especially during peak dramatic moments, it does not detract from the film's authenticity. The River is definitely of its time and its attitudes towards women are dated, yet it is a work that transcends time and place to capture universal emotions. It is a great film that can be relished over and over again with increasing appreciation.
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ELSPENCE18 April 2005
I believe that both Karina and Gabridl are slightly off when they say that the film is supposed to depict post-independence India. I don't believe this is true and, therefore, Renoir cannot be taken to task for not covering India's independence struggles. Although the film was made post-independence (1951), it does not cover the period of independence itself (late 1930s to actual independence in 1947). Remember, that the film is a "memory film" and is based on the autobiography of Rumer Godden, who was born in 1907. The adult narrator is a grown-up Harriet. A grown-up Harriet in 1951 would be speaking of an earlier time--probably sometime in the 1920s--that was a more peaceful time for the English colonial inhabitants. The clothing and hairstyles can't be used to indicate when the film takes place. Harriet's blue sack of a dress would have been worn by any 13 year-old girl from the 1920 through the 1940s. And Valerie's rather unkempt and flowing hair could be anytime, too.

As for Melanie having an Indian accent. I don't believe that it was ever said that Melanie was educated in England. I believe that the film says she was educated in a convent, and there were certainly convent schools in India in the 1920s. I find it interesting that when it is said that Melanie will probably marry Anil, an understanding that they have had since childhood, she is still wearing her convent uniform. When she develops a crush on Captain John, she starts to wear saris, maybe hoping to attract him through the exotic.

All in all, a beautiful, lyrical film that should not be missed.
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Spellbinding, magnificent
luciferjohnson18 April 2005
A really glorious, spellbinding movie. Filmed in Bengal, India, on the Ganges, it captures the essence of India, the timeless quality of life on the Ganges, without being patronizing.

This is a coming of age movie about three teenage girls, two British and one Anglo-Indian, and how their lives are affected by the arrival of a one-legged American war veteran. It's very easy to fall into sentimentality in a movie like this, but Renoir avoids this obvious pitfall. Though I have to say, I found this film very moving.

It helps that this movie is filmed in Technicolor, and is one of the best uses of Technicolor of that era.

Some of the performers were amateurs, including the actor who played the veteran and some of the children, but overall the performances are outstanding. A fine, low-key performance by Esmond Knight. This was the only film for Patricia Walters, who played Harriet, and Thomas Breen, the war veteran who played Captain Jack, never made any other movies. Watch for Arthur Shields, the brilliant Irish actor, as father of Nan.
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Just life
Fesch15 June 2000
This is one of those rare films which give you the impression after viewing it that you have truly lived and shared the lives of its characters (not just 'two people received that kiss', as they say in the film, but everyone who's watching the movie).

You became part of that river as the film progresses, it is perhaps the picture which has described the passage of time better than any other. It is life, running within its waters, that catches your soul, which melts with the river and the film and your memory...

I think it is the only movie that made me run to a bookstore to buy the book it was based on. Rumer Godden's work is beautiful indeed, but the film is far better for me.

Highly recommended!
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A unique achievement
dfmlsf26 February 2001
There is something special about this movie. In fact, to say there is something special does not tell much, and it could be equally applied to hundreds of films which are much less special than this. So let's start again. I had never seen a film like "The River" before. Thanks to the Spanish TV program "Qué grande es el cine" I discovered this piece of Art created by a major artist: Renoir. Some of my other favourite movies are similar in some aspects to others. And so, "North by Northwest" resembles other thrillers with Cary Grant; "A Touch of Evil" is a moral fable and also a nightmare which reminds a bit of "The Night of the Hunter", and so on. But "The River" reminds me of nothing I have seen on a screen. It has to do with ethics and with life. It has to do with balance, with understanding human nature. I think this film has everything which can be told in a film. Absolutely everything. I believe this film reflects an attitude towards life and towards art. So I got it finally! This film is if anything an attitude. Once you have seen, you feel better, you know more about life, your perspective has changed. It is a ray of light. I should be compulsory in High School and everywhere.
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A very surreal, strange film thanks to Technicolor
Camoo10 September 2006
Wow. What a special film this was! On the surface so basic but underneath a deeply spiritual and satisfying adventure... I cannot say enough about the color, and the process used, something Martin Scorsese talks about in length during an interview on the Criterion disc. To him, along with the Red Shoes, this is the most beautiful color film ever made, and I would have to agree with him. A shot of an orange tree stands out in my mind towards the end, it sways in the wind against a bright blue background, and it gave me goosebumps all over my body. The film plays very much like a dream, beneath somewhat mediocre acting and story, but I won't get into that, because I didn't feel as though that mattered as much as the overall feeling and purpose the film left with me afterwards... Some people I was with really didn't respond to it the way I did, but I think you have to enjoy it on a different level or it has the potential to fail, but when I saw it I found it a great, great masterpiece, better than any other Renoir film I have ever seen (I know Rules of the Game is considered his greatest, but that doesn't stand next to this at all in my mind). See it also for the beautiful cinematography of the culture of India during colonial rule, which has all but transformed by now.
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Sumptuously beautiful
William J. Fickling8 June 2000
I rated this film 9 instead of 10 because of its slow start and because of some of the acting. But what a movie! I don't think it's an accident that Renoir is the son of the great impressionist painter, because in this film, he uses the screen as a canvas. The shot of Valerie standing in midscreen with the green pond and foliage behind her is indescribably beautiful. Moreover, the sensuousness achieved here is rare in film. I felt that I was in India 50 years ago, so skilled was Renoir in being able to absorb the viewer into the film. A real find!
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First Love in the Flow of Life
Claudio Carvalho7 April 2010
In Bengal, India, the teenager Harriet (Patricia Walters) is the oldest daughter of a British family composed by her father (Esmond Knight) that lost one eye in the war and is the manager of a jute factory; her mother (Nora Swinburne) that is pregnant; and her four younger sisters and one little brother. They have a quiet and comfortable life living in a big house nearby the Ganges River. Valerie (Adrienne Corri) is the teenage daughter the owner of the jute factory where Harriet's father works that spends most of her time with Harriet. Melanie is the British-Indian daughter of Harriet's neighbor Mr. John (Arthur Shields) that has just returned from an education in England. When the young American Captain John (Thomas E. Breen) that lost one of his legs in the war comes to Bengal to visit his cousin Mr. John, the three teenagers fall in love for him.

"The River" is a story of first love in the exotic India and metaphorically compares the Ganges River with the flow of life with the lead character leaving her childhood and becoming an adolescent. The screenplay of this romance has many beautiful quotes, but excessive narrative from a grown-up Harriet. The cinematography is stunning, with the use of bright colors in the environment of India. Thomas E. Breen performs an outcast character that has a great complex due to the loss of one of his legs but he does not transmit this feeling to the audience. The red-haired Adrienne Corri is a very beautiful young woman that gives credibility to her sixteen year-old character. The Brazilian DVD was released by Continental Distributor. My vote is six.

Title (Brazil): "O Rio Sagrado" ("The Sacred River")
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More angsty than Yangtze.
Auntie_Inflammatory30 January 2016
Warning: Spoilers
I saw a promo for this film on TCM, was intrigued, looked it up here, saw tons of glowing 9 and 10-star reviews and set the DVR, expecting that I'd soon be watching a masterpiece.

Well, the location is exotic, the technicolor is gorgeous, some of the cinematography is very nice (although a bit static), and the depiction of Indian holidays and customs is interesting but this is really just a very simple coming-of-age story. All the usual teen-angsty stuff is here; the infatuation of the 3 girls with the mysterious stranger, Harriet's feeling like an ugly-duckling next to her more attractive friends, Melanie's struggle with her mixed ethnicity, Valerie's desire to test the power of her sexuality and her apprehensiveness of the consequences. I don't think it's particularly deep, despite all the river-as-life stuff and I suspect that it might not be as highly-regarded as it is if it had been directed by someone other than Jean Renoir. That said, I do like the film, I just don't think it's a "masterpiece".

There seems to be some confusion as to the setting of the film. I'm no expert on India but I don't think it's set during or after Independence as some have suggested. The movie is based on Rumer Godden's memoirs and she was born in 1907, stayed in India during WWI, was sent to school in England in 1920 and didn't return until she was 18. The film is somewhat timeless, due to the absence of popular music or trendy fashions that would tie it to a particular decade, but there are some clues. Melanie returns from boarding school in a horse-drawn carriage, Harriet's family plays records on a wind-up gramophone, etc.

As to the comments that the film is somehow "offensive" or lacking for not depicting the poverty of the natives or the politics of the time... Please! It's the story of a few months in the lives of three teenage girls, not a documentary or a portrait of India. Is "Grease" offensive because it takes place in the U.S. during the 1950s and it doesn't address the civil rights movement?

Reviews and message board comments suggest that this is a film that most people either love or hate. Obviously, it will not appeal to those who only go to blockbuster films full of superheroes and/or explosions or who have limited attention spans. I've read lots of negativity here about the performances and even appearances of some of the actors. The only performance that's problematic for me is that of Radha, who plays Melanie. I get that the character is more enigmatic than the other girls and doesn't wear her angst on her sleeve but her monotone delivery and habit of staring straight ahead come across as expressionless. I think Patricia Walters gives a great performance for someone who never acted before. As far as looks go, early on Harriet describes herself as "an ugly-duckling, determined to be a swan." She's not supposed to be ravishing, it wouldn't work if she were. Captain John is no model but he's not hideous either. Narrator-Harriet explains that visitors from abroad were usually old and married so the arrival of any young, single man would've been exciting. He had the added cachet of being a war hero and an American.

Call me crazy but Harriet seems to undergo a sort of metamorphosis during the scene on the boat with Captain John. I don't know if it's the lighting and camera angles or the fact that she's smiling more than usual and looking happy and content but from the moment she tells him that Victoria had said something similar to his comment about being born until they leave the boat she suddenly looks quite pretty. It seems symbolic, as if his saying that she wasn't the type of person to lay down and die, that she could begin again, and that one of her poems might still be alive 2,070+ years in the future gave her a new confidence that was manifested in her appearance.

Not quite a masterpiece but enjoyable.
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The River (1951) ***
MARIO GAUCI23 February 2006
India has, through the years, fascinated many a major film-maker, including Robert Flaherty, Fritz Lang, Louis Malle, Michael Powell, Roberto Rossellini and Jean Renoir. Renoir's film, based on a novel by English novelist Rumer Godden of BLACK NARCISSUS (1947) fame, is as gorgeously shot (in ravishing Technicolor) as can be expected from a master film-maker and the son of a famous French impressionist painter; however, the narrative itself is rather disappointingly thin to support its 99-minute running time. Having said that, the coming-of-age story of two English girls living in India and loving the same young officer wounded in WWII, is appealingly performed by Nora Swinburne, Esmond Knight, Arthur Shields and Adrienne Corri. The central character, played winningly by newcomer Patricia Walters (whose only film this turned out to be) is a stand-in for Godden herself, whose considerable writing talent was not encouraged by her stern family. The film offers Renoir another chance to show his humanist side dwelling as it does on the strange (to Western eyes) social and religious customs of the Indian people; even so, when all is said and done, there is just too much local color in the film. However, as Renoir is not only one of my favorite film directors but arguably the greatest of all French film-makers, I am confident that a second viewing of THE RIVER will elevate significantly my estimation of it, as it is probably too rich an experience to savor all at one go.

Among the copious supplements on the Criterion DVD, there is a typically enthusiastic interview with Martin Scorsese (who also helped in funding the film's restoration) who waxes lyrically on the effect the film had on him as a 9 year-old film-goer; surprisingly for me, he also confesses that the appeal of Renoir's masterpiece, LA REGLE DU JEU (1939), an automatic candidate for the title of the greatest film of all time, escapes him!!
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Is it just me then...
sidekick8612 April 2006
I'm honestly not sure if I watched the same film as most of the other people here. It seems just because this is a Renoir film it has to be a masterpiece. I had what i thought was going to be a pleasure of seeing this on Sunday at a great little cinema I know. The few Renoir films I'd seen in the past were good and this was supposed to be another classic. I couldn't of been more wrong. This was dull from the very start. Unimaganitive script, hammy bad acting and even though it was filmed in a country as beautiful as Indian the direction was flat and very much uninspiring. There didn't seem any point this. The characters were never really explored, you only had the most basic of knowledge about who they were and what drove them. I came out of this utterly disappointed. I know I'll probably be blasted on here for being an uneducated heathen who could never understand the subtleties of a master like Jean Renoir but I just really didn't think this was a very good film.
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An Overrated Work by a Genius
aaronlromano4 September 2013
We can all agree on two things at least: 1) Renoir is a genius and 2) This film has some stunning visuals with excellent uses of color etc. Those two things being said, I think - no I honestly believe - that this film has received so high a rating here on IMDb simply because it is by Renoir, and people fear that if they express distaste in Renoir, they make themselves appear foolish and uncultured. Thus, this film has an unjustly high rating. I only rated it as high as I did because of the stunning visuals, but the fact of the matter is even a master like Renoir can produce a dud. He's not the only one; Hitchcock directed Under Capricorn, Faulkner penned Mosquitoes, and Gary Oldman allows himself to be used in countless terrible movies - as Vonnegut says: "So it goes." The sad fact is that this film falls flat on glorious Technicolor face. The acting is wooden to the point of being nonexistent and the screenplay is horrible to the point of being cacophonous. I do not feel that it deserves the distinction of a Criterion release as a so-called "Important Classic Film" and I recommend, even as a personal fan of Renoir, that you pass on this one.
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"Rich and poor, young and old..."
jzappa11 September 2009
Renoir eschews the India of extraordinary adventure and marvel for a contemplative, in effect spiritual film taking place by a channel of the Ganges, whose achievement would project a fresh time period of portraying India on screen. And I love it when a foreign filmmaker's hand comes through in an English-language production, a 1951 Western-made film about a whole other culture and philosophy, truly fascinating us with it.

If something is visualized, it's not vocally expressed, and if it's vocally expressed, it's not visualized. The very dry voice-over narration is complemented by self-explanatory images and scenes: The narrator's voice engraves the story in the past, distilled by recollection, sustaining a pondering intricacy that just showing the events could not achieve, resonating not only youth but on India and the Indian sensibility of concurrence with the world that had ensnared Renoir and that gives the film a circular, continual feel. This reflective narration allows the braiding of the life of Patricia Walters' protagonist Harriet and the life of India, so that the sights and sounds of India, such as the beautiful montage of intimate, innocent shots of Indian river people 45 minutes in, may hold sway over our viewing of the film while Harriet remains its functioning core.

The mere allusion of courtship among Melanie and the white American, Captain John, confronted ethnic thou-shalt-nots on both sides of the Atlantic. And the character endows an Indian apart from a serf with a genuine expression and distinctive quality of character in the film's focal footlights. Not that the film's point of view is as simple as it might seem. Its groundwork is source writer Rumer Godden's own pre-1920 background with India, with her young representation, Harriet, falling in love with an out-of-commission GI of undetermined warfare and the entirety chronicled with romantic recollection by an older Harriet, who has, naturally, become a writer.

Again, as with Grand Illusion, Renoir debunks man-made borders and boundaries. "Everyone has his reasons" is the adage most regularly related to Renoir's output collectively, citing his understanding of opposing perspectives and his defiance to sermonize or condemn. The film's two fathers, Harriet's jute factory manager and Melanie's widower father, Mr. John, are both overwrought by their fatherly duties. "In the West, we've learned it's easier to grow children rather than keep them," one of them wryly remarks. The manager has a wife, who tolerantly describes the inevitable troubles of being a kid, a teenager and a parent. The Indian nanny is loved because she is a fiery child herself. Mr. John distresses over the mixed- race situation his marriage to an Indian has begotten for the twenty-ish, mix-blooded character of Melanie and over the post-traumatic disorientation of his cousin, as he works to come to terms with having lost a leg in the war.

Compared to the competition and strife fixed on by Hollywood formula, which inevitably concludes with closure, Renoir's films aim to say that not all issues are resolvable. None of the central figures here find actual contentment. Rather, they rise above resentment and dashed hopes in a succession of events that we can maybe see as cathartic but that are likeweise shaped by the outlook of Hinduism. The Europeans who are the main protagonists of this almost Unitarian Universalist coming-of-age drama engage in the Hindu rituals as onlookers instead of followers. But when their hardest experience comes, they espouse some of the articles of Hindu ritual and much of its sobriety. One element of Hindu theology in particular appears to captivate Renoir, the goddess Kali's seasonal course from devastation to resurrection, and this could be seen as the film's all-embracing keynote.
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Is there a DVD version for European viewers?
miguelopp30 July 2005
I saw this film a long time ago and I really loved it. I'm very interested in buying a DVD version of the film suitable for being watched in Europe, but the only versions I can find on the Internet are for Region 1 (United States). I would be very recognized if someone could help me and tell me if there's any version available for Region 2 (Europe). I'm sure there are a large number of people in Europe who would be interested in buying a DVD version of it. Thank you very much for your help. As for the film itself I really appreciate the slow rhythm of the film, similar to that of the water of the river passing by. It creates a very intense, touching, atmosphere.
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dgerroll6 August 2005
The good news is that Renoir's distinctive 'rhythm' is at work here; a sort of pacing that only a master can achieve. The bad news is that some of the dialogue and the acting by both professional and amateur actors is agonisingly arch. The theme of life, destruction and rebirth is neatly illustrated in the Hindu rituals and mirrored in the tribulations of a rather theatrically played English colonial family whose teenagers lose innocence and in the case of one actual innocent, a life. The film ends beautifully with a glorious Indian spring and a new birth in the colonial family. All well and good but for the Edwardian almost Victorian sentimentalising of childhood innocence. It was such agony to sit through that I was tempted to scream 'FIRE' in order to end the torture and make my escape.
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An exploration of timeless themes
Yash Mahendra28 June 2014
This is the story of a few English families living on the banks of the Ganga in Bengal during the colonial era who are tasked by the British Raj to run the jute trade. This familiar setting invokes several clichés in our minds and Renoir sets about transcending each of them. To start with, the narrator's father who supervises the jute trade is a gentle soul. He is not the typical penny pinching capitalist but someone who finds the never ending 'river' of human beings carrying jute from farm to factory, fascinating. His interactions with locals both in and not in his employment show us how he believes in equality, respect and co-existence. The family takes after him and his 'house full of women' has embraced a new culture with open arms without any fear of losing their own. The family celebrates Indian festivals, mingles freely with the locals and experiences the great spiritual seduction that India is.

The metaphor of the river as a symbol of the infiniteness of creation with its unending cycles of creation and destruction is exemplary. The family experiences the permanence of the river and contrasts the transitory nature of their existence with it. The pains and joys of life that are experienced uniquely by each one of the three women are so different and yet so similar! Some of us get a kiss on the lips, others a kiss on the forehead and others remain with unrequited desires and confused emotions. And yet, like the change of seasons we all bloom and flourish and we all perish in the end while the cycle of life goes on.

So what should we do given this human condition that we've been subjected to? Like all great artists, Renoir attempts to answer this most enigmatic and intriguing question. 'The River' proposes 'Consent'. It seems to whisper gently to our worried minds and torrid hearts to accept the ebb and tide of our existence, to not quarrel, to not revolt (What we think of as revolts are really tiny quarrels when you look at our insignificance and the enormousness of creation). The message here is to accept, to open our eyes and for the first time watch without resentment, to observe and learn from nature. As we follow nature's course intently we might get bitten by a snake and die a swift death or a new insight will turn the course of our lives and push us in another unfamiliar direction.

Sitting on the banks, witnessing the course of the river and that of our existence, Renoir tells us that all is not lost. That this journey, however short or insignificant it might be, contains the potential to experience limitless joy and beauty - the innocence of children, the pleasure of creating new life, the camaraderie of good friendship and above all love for another person no matter how flawed or imperfect they are.
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Renoir and Satyajit Ray
william-t-archer16 September 2010
The River is Renoir's India film, and among the many other directors he influenced, you can see here his abiding impact on the great Satyajit Ray. Renoir follows a British family living in India, and brings his usual appreciation of human flaws and desires to bear on the situation. If the movie doesn't really rank as one of his best works (I would put it far below Grand Illusion or Rules of the Game, for instance), this might be because, leaving Europe, Ray seems to lose some of his sureness of touch, particularly in the scenes with the Indian characters. I always think of a Satyajit Ray film like the glorious Devi as brilliantly capturing what Renoir missed -- as simultaneously paying tribute to Renoir and showing the rich complexity of Indian life that Renoir, as an outsider, didn't quite manage to capture. This isn't a put-down of Renoir -- more an appreciation of how far-reaching his influence has been, and how he has opened up a remarkably wide range of possibilities for other directors, who remain fond of him even when they surpass him. Along these lines, it's especially worth noting that Ray worked on The River and scouted locations for the film. He also told Renoir about his plans for his first film, to be based on Pather Panchali, and Renoir encouraged him to go forward and become a director. Really, Renoir is one of those rare directors who, the more you learn about him as a person, the more you like him.
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a smugly colonial tip of the Indian iceberg
lasttimeisaw13 November 2016
Jean Renoir embraces Technicolor for the first time in his adaptation of Rumer Godden's coming- of-age novel THE RIVER, with the latter collaborating on the screenplay. The story takes place in Bengal, India, a teenage girl named Harriet (Walters) is the eldest child of a middle-class British family living near the riverbank of Ganges, her father (an one-eyed Knight) runs a jute mill, and her mother (Swinburne) is expecting a child no. 7.

It is a carefree scenario, growing up in the natural inculcation of an exotically profound Hindu culture while carrying on an genteel upbringing, sometimes, it conspires to be a false or at least parochial impression of the land and its people, which doesn't take up too much space in the story-line, the only native Indian who has a speaking part is Nan (Mukerjee), the family's convivial but gossipy nanny, and the rest sustains as an ethnic curiosity to meet the Westerners' eyes, although beguilingly and entrancingly so, after all, what we are allowed to watch is the smugly colonial tip of the Indian iceberg.

The plot revolves around Harriet's budding affection towards the guest of their neighbor Mr. John (Shields), an one-legged American Captain John (Breen), who takes his time in lolling on a foreign land, to find some peace with his battlefield past and physical disability, look for a new resolution for life. As John is the only eligible white young man on the market, to her chagrin, a besotted, but fairly plain-looking Harriet has a losing game against her rival, the maturer and more zaftig Valerie (Corri), by the way, a British girl too is also her best friend. And throughout this picturesque film, it is Harriet's voice-over that guides viewers traversing her prepubescent triviality (poems, indeed), to listen to her inner voice, to sympathize her unrequited love, to find empathy in this garden-variety tale.

Wielded as an emotional clincher, a tragic incident materializes as one downside of having a brood of many caused by adult negligence, but here also emanates a disquieting undertow to pinpoint the virulence of a foreign society with a local boy standing by as an unwary abetter. And a cheesy solution to get it over is taking the pro-procreation flag, babies are being borne all the time.

The cast is mixed with adult professionals and amateur players, but comes off barely adequate, a major gripe is the narrative ellipsis in the story of Melanie (Radha), the mixed-race daughter of Mr. John, who stands out (there is not much competition though) with a massively pleasurable Ganesha-courting dancing sequence, but whose dislike of herself, waffling identity never been considerably mapped out as a pre-eminent counterpoint of Harriet's more orthodox background.

So, all above sounds like a pejorative critique against a film who has earned a hallowed reputation since its genesis, yet, it is as plain as the nose on one's face, the picture's eye-catching glamour and aural accompaniments are undeniably supreme, technologically speaking. And it is smart enough for Mr. Renoir to treat it as a philosophical prose other than a heady narration of banal proceedings, only a 60-odd-year later, its allure fades away slightly due to the original novel's awkward stance on a colonized land and Renoir's condoning deference.
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A Fascinating Look at Post-Colonial India
gavin694215 May 2015
Three adolescent girls growing up in Bengal, India, learn their lessons in life after falling for an older American soldier.

While I am not at all familiar with the cinema of India, my impression is that it probably did not get started until the 1960s. Maybe this is wrong. But Jean Renoir's "River" may be the first significant film to come out of India following the country's independence in 1948.

The "coming of age" aspect of the three girls is very interesting and a good narrative, but more important is the way Indian culture and religion is shown. When did the West become interested in India? Long ago, surely. But there seems to be a Renaissance mid-1900s with such writers as Christopher Isherwood. This film, no doubt, helped push that Renaissance.
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Avoid this movie,run away. Live to view another day.
KartofflMuter5 September 2011
Having read many of Rumer Godden's books,I hope to G-d she looks nothing like Harriet. There is Nothing,and I mean NOTHING in all the scenery of India that could take my mind off the face of that girl. I kept thinking, braces? nose reduction? paper bag?) No- since she was indeed the center of the movie,and that in itself was the main mistake, they casting should have been ,shall we say, less unfortunate. And to the reviewer who thinks a movie set in Bengal needed less local color,I say, "&*(*&&%!.) Who cares that three girls had a crush on a fairly uninspiring,homely,one-legged man? I didn't. I watched for "the local color." I have lived in Bengal and dipped my toes in the Ganges stared down a Brahmin cow,stroked a donkey painted pink for some unknown reason had a banana thrown at me by a Hanuman monkey and stood beside a dancing bear. Yes India is colorful and dangerous and not the least bit romantic. That nonsense should have died in all of your heads a long time ago when you discovered the reality of famine, corruption, bribes, and inequality that is India.

I liked the music but found it strange that Melanie had such a thick non-Bengali accent and when her father tried to praise her painting (which isn't in her blood-so where did she learn it?) he said "bahaut achi" which is Hindi for or very nice.They are in Bengal. He would have said "Khub Bhallo" - which means very good in Bengali.

To me this is one of those ,The Emperor Is Naked Folks movies.
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Tedious and offensive - Watch the Apu Trilogy Instead
TooShortforThatGesture27 February 2006
I'm at a loss, frankly, to understand why people rave about this film. I saw it this evening and was aching for it to end.

The picture seems to alternate between being a Cooks Tour Indian travelogue and a tedious domestic drama in the worst of the British Raj tradition. The white people are all very serious and say things that I think are supposed to be profound but, for the most part, simply sound ludicrous. (There's actually one mother-daughter scene where daughter is told that the pain of childbirth is nothing compared to the joy of making a child for the husband you love. I expect that the "close your eyes and think of England" line ended up on the cutting room floor.) The tedious story is aggravated by some of the worst acting you're likely to have the chance to see in a single two hour sitting and an endless voice-over narration that seems to substitute for actual filmic storytelling. (Plus there are a couple of unbelievable moments -- like when the 13/14? year old English girl is apparently free to wander about the town by herself. I'm not saying she wouldn't have been safe, but I find it hard to believe she would be allowed to do that.)

But rest assured that all the Indians we see are seen only through the lens of how picturesque their impoverished lives are --- especially when you're watching from the veranda of your big English house. Everyone seems to spend the day playing music or bathing in the river or preparing for a festival. How fun!!!

I can only think that the supersaturated Technicolor was overwhelming to audiences in the 1950's and that people hadn't really seen anything about India before. To me today, it comes across as a garbled mess -- like a Powell/Pressburger film made on a $2.95 budget. Ugg.

If you want to see some wonderful film-making about the real India of roughly the same period watch any (or all) of Satyajit Rey's amazing "Apu" trilogy (Pather Panchali, Aparajito, Apur Sansar) instead.
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follow the river
karina608 November 2004
Yes, the movie was set after Independence, but no, I don't believe that facing this fact head-on, that is, politically, is the effective way to go. Renoir, a keen director with a keen political mind, understood that the real juice of the struggle for Independence is in the everyday details, observing the changes in that which seems unchanged. An original perspective would lead a good director away from the fires and the riots, which we all know occurred and which are perhaps in their own way too horrible to be filmed. In other words, if you want politically correct, that is, disrespectful representations of a tumultuous era, watch Schindler's List. Watch Attenborough's Gandhi for that matter. The filmmakers of these films seem to believe you can capture the essence of horror by pretending to re-create it. I think it was Godard who said that a film about the camps would be impossible to make because you would have to starve the actors to the point of death. How can Spielberg's actors ever, ever be able to "act" like they are suffering the physical and mental effects of institutionalized madness? To respect both the memory of those who perished and to respect those who have somehow survived, we cannot be so arrogant to believe we have taken a glimpse into the experience because the guy who made a fake alien that fit our stereotypes did it.

In similar vein, for a director to behave so irresponsibly as to pretend he can capture the struggle for Independence by showing the riots is simply unwise and I would assume for someone who might have actually been a part of it, a egregious misrepresentation.
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India through the Lens of 3 teenage Girls!
jessicacoco20056 October 2017
As the day evolves into night; night into day; life into death; death into life all in a circle so does the waters of the river flow around the Earth in a circle- transient, but everlasting.

The film is visually beautiful, magical, and literally poetic in parts by the stories and poetry recited in it. On the surface it appears as a coming of age story of 3 teenage girls in love with a disabled visiting American war veteran, but underneath it is something more: a story about the transience of youth and an ode, a love song to India; an idealized India that is of the 1920's as seen through the eyes of its colonizers, the British, who have fallen in love with it. As such we see no images of poverty and exploitation. In fact, we rarely get to know the Natives as individuals, especially as the story line is centered around British and American characters. Yet, still the film is worthwhile to see, as it provides a fascinating glimpse into India; of its people, superstitions, religion, and way of life. The film has one major flaw hindering a 10 star review and that is lack of character development. Under Bergman, this film could have been a masterpiece. Sadly, the characters never seem to emerge into truly 3-D individuals; preventing us from understanding what they feel and feeling what they feel. Character development needs time and I have little doubt that Renoir was restricted by time constraints imposed by Hollywood. Nevertheless a film worth seeing.
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