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Weeks after the terrorist attacks in London a mother calls her
daughter, over and over again. She hasn't heard from her in a while and
is getting more and more anxious about her, knowing she lived close to
where the events took place. When she goes to London to find her she
finds a man instead. A man who matches her in one important manner - he
is searching for his son. The two of them continue their search
together and slowly find out more about themselves and each other.
Dark and dreary, depressing and painful. Sometimes people get together for entirely the wrong reason and this is one of these occasions. They connect rather well and play their stories out in a believable way. As they go through their daily routine it becomes all too painfully clear where it will all end - but the real pain of this film is that it ends too quickly. It runs for 87 minutes and could have used another 15 without having grown less intense. The shortness makes it feel a little rushed, but only a little.
9 out of 10 steps in the dark
This movie is a gentle and deep melodrama using the July 2005 terrorist acts as a jumping off point for telling about clashing cultures united in grief. The story is certainly a hard look at racial biases and is strongly backed by Blethyn's character, whose repressed hysteria clashes with Kouyaté's attitude (more similar to a calm resignation). The director has also depicted a very serious and fascinating study on how Londoners were unprepared to react to such an emergency. Overall this is a poignant and insight-filled take on prejudice in post-11/7 London, well acted and directed. There have been other "Londoner" films about the same subject (or about terrorism in the UK) but this is the best by far in my opinion.
STAR RATING: ***** Saturday Night **** Friday Night *** Friday Morning
** Sunday Night * Monday Morning
Elisabeth (Brenda Blethyn) lives a reclusive life on the shores of Guernsey, until her life is torn apart when she learns of the July 7th terror attacks in London, where her daughter lives. Meanwhile, Ousmane (Sotigui Kouyate) is a black Muslim immigrant from France who has also come to London to look for his son, who he has not seen from birth. When he discovers a photo and some contact details, he gets in touch with Elisabeth and they embark on a soul shattering quest to find their flesh and blood that takes them on a journey of discovery and hope, to the gravest depths of despair.
In the extras section of the DVD, even Blethyn herself comments on doubts she had about accepting the script for London River, on account of how close it was to the attacks and the official enquiry etc. not coming out. But it's good that she pushed her doubts aside, because her performance is one of the more compelling things about this old fashioned feeling drama, tending to headlines from very recently. With the feel of some TV drama from the early 90s, director Rachid Bouchareb has laced his daring and challenging drama with some personal touches here and there that give it a neat feel of it's own. The execution never hits with it's maximum impact, and it's over too quickly to really make it shine. But the subtle, under-stated performances from the two lead actors and it's realistic feel of a tragedy and the cruelty of life unfolding lift it well above average. ***
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I've been sitting here in front of the computer with a blank page open
trying to find a way to write about London River that will convey
everything it made me feel while watching it.
It is funny to confirm once again that I have no problem in writing about the things I don't like, about what things aren't and all the other negative aspects about any given subject, but once I have to write about the reasons why I like something, why it is great, etc; I blank.
I think a good way to start writing about London River is to say that A) it is the best film (fiction) I have watched at the Festival so far and B) it will be really hard not to spoil anything about the story (so, if you want to be truly surprise you should stop reading now).
London River is the story about a woman and a man whose children go missing after the attacks in London in 2005. The film follows their efforts to find out what happened to them and their struggle to accept the obvious.
The brilliance about London River is that what could have been an over melodramatic film is, instead, very emotionally repressed.
I know that for Brazilians and other Latin-American people, telling such a dramatic story this way might seem odd and, even worse, cold. But it truly isn't. It turns out quite the opposite, in fact.
The very contained direction and script from Rachid Bouchareb ends up making you feel even more for these parents and what they are going through. Their despair is subtle and yet palpable. It involves you and moves you. It is heartbreaking.
Another reason for being the perfect way to tell this story is that the fear and prejudice that permeates British society is a touchy issue. How could it not be? No one likes to admit their faults, but facing it this way without accusations or making it a spectacle (like Michael Moore in Bowling for Columbine or Fahrenheit 9/11) is more powerful; it makes you think. It is also a very respectful and honorable way of tackling a very real and present aspect of British life.
If the technical aspects of London River weren't enough to make it a great film, then you can delight and be amazed with Brenda Blethyn and Sotigui Kouyaté performances. They are very honest and beautiful. They will bring tears to your eyes, I guarantee.
On a personal note, I rarely watch a film and am taken aback by the actors to the point that I think they deserve awards, but this time I did. I really hope they get nominated for the major awards. It will be shocking and unfair if they don't.
London River is a quietly powerful and thought-provoking drama
surrounding the aftermath of the London 7-7-2005 bombings.
Brenda Blethyn, ever-watchable, is entirely believable as the distraught mother who cannot trace her daughter, when she sees news footage of the devastation, from her Guernsey home. On the other side of the coin is elderly, black and dread-locked Sotigui Kouyate, trying to contact his son, whom he walked out on when the boy was six, then having been working in France since.
Both end up searching in London, Blethyn doing the rounds of missing person posters and showing photos to everybody she can, in the hope of any piece of news. The paths of these two unlikely kindred spirits cross when it transpires that their two children may have been living together and taking Arabic classes, through their local mosque.
As you can imagine, there's quite a lot of cross-cultural clashes here, not just the black boy, white girl aspect, but also the Muslim element and the thorny issue, particularly at the time when the film is set; terrorism. Could they have been involved, too? The mother knows her daughter and knows she couldn't have been, but the same could not be said about the father...more food for thought.
There's good solid acting from both - Blethyn typically more blubbery and emotional whilst Kouyate, as the sort of wise old sage, takes things more pragmatically and thoughtfully. It's a strange mix if you were to walk in on the film half-way through; follow it from the start and it seems quite natural.
There's been comment that it's contrived in that Blethyn is suddenly able to speak the native French of Kouyate - I don't find that hard to believe at all, not only is she citizen of Guernsey, where French is their official other language but is also physically much closer to France than the U.K. Also, in the day that a woman of her age was educated, she (& myself) learnt a type of 'schoolboy' French - I could understand much of what was being said from my failed 'O' Level, back 30 years ago.
So, a good drama, for what it is. It certainly won't appeal to all, both in subject matter, nor in its slow-ish, measured pace. But for those who enjoy something a bit different, something that shines a new light, perhaps, on a recent piece of our history, plus the acting, then London River has a lot going for it. I viewed it on BBC1.
In the days following the London train bombings,hundreds of people from England,as well as other parts of Europe scrambled anxiously trying to find out about their loved ones. In this story,we get stories of two single parents in search of their children. There is Elizabeth,a fifty something woman,living as far north of the (so called)big,evil city of London,being perfectly content to work the earth on her farm,while Ousmane,a tall,lanky man of African descent is trying to find out about his estranged son,whom he hasn't seen since he left home to work in France,when his son was only six. Through a series of chance meetings, they both find out that the daughter & son were lovers,living together in London. Both travel there in search of their estranged children. Do they find them & find some kind of closure? Brenda Bleythn (Secrets & Lies)is Elizabeth,a woman who obviously fears the unknown. Mali actor, Sotigue Kouyate is Ousmane,a worry worn man,who just wants to live out his days,tending the Elm trees. Also featuring Francis Magee,Sami Bouajila, Roschady Zem & Marc Baylis. Rachid Bouchareb ('Little Senegal')directs from a screenplay written by Zoe Galeron,Olivier Lorelle & Bouchareb. Cinematography by Jerome Almeras,with editing by Yannick Korgoat. This is a heart breaking,but very well written,directed & acted drama of a woman trying to rise above fear & ignorance & banding together with a stranger who is attempting to find some reasoning in the middle of chaos. As this film has no North American distribution,it may be a bit hard to track down (it has been screened mostly at film festivals,and as far as I know,there is no DVD release available). Spoken in English,and French,Arabic & Bambarra with English subtitles. Not rated by the MPAA,this film contains some rather gruesome images of some of the victims of the London train bombings that could be traumatic to young children
The tenth anniversary of the 7 July bombings has led to a flurry of
programming including the somewhat disappointing and emotionally
manipulative A Song for Jenny shown on BBC television.
Rachid Bouchareb who made the award winning Days of Glory has made this curious low budget film just a few years after the atrocities which is a mixture of English, French and Arabic.
Elisabeth (Brenda Blethyn) is a hard working farmer in Guernsey. After the July bombings she tries to contact her daughter who lives in London but she does not return her calls. Worried she makes her way to London and finds out that she is living in a flat in a predominantly Arab area.
Ousmane (Sotigui Kouyate) is an African Muslim working in a forest in France. He has come to London to look for his son who his family back in Africa cannot contact. Ousmane knows little about his son had he had to leave his family behind to work in France. At one point we discover that he believes that his son might had been one of the perpetrators of the London bombings.
Ousmane sees a photo of Elisabeth's daughter and realises that he has a picture of her and his son together and contacts her. Elisabeth is wary and distrustful of Ousmane and calls the police. It looks like the son and daughter were living together and her daughter was also learning Arabic. Elisabeth could not understand why she would be learning Arabic,hanging with a black African boy and living in a French-Arab area of London. Its all confusing to her.
Eventually Elisabeth realises that they are both on the same quest and team up together to look for their respective children. It seems that there is hope that their children are alive and went abroad on the day of the bombings.
Sotigui Kouyate gives Ousmane a quiet dignity, the actor was frail when he made the film but looks imposing with his big presence and dreadlocks. Brenda Blethyn specialises in playing frumps these days and here she very much hits the mark as someone who has grown in an environment a world away from multiculturalism of London.
When she comes to London she is confused especially as she tries to fathom how her daughter ended up in such an alien environment and felt comfortable with it.
The fact she comes from Guernsey helps get over the language barrier as she can communicate with Ousmane in French. Francis Magee plays a police inspector who speaks French in a bizarre Irish/Manx accent.
You always suspect that the film will inflict a sucker punch to the duo. It is just a shame that it took place in such a poor setting of some basement corridor full of pipes that was supposedly a police station.
It is a slow burning and thoughtful piece of two people looking for a glimmer of amongst despair and then dealing with their despair. Its simple premise is a big plus as you get pulled in with their search for their loved ones.
We enjoyed this touching film immensely. It was well written, well acted and well directed with a humanist representation of parental love, multiculturalism and xenophobia in today's London. The multilingual aspect was wonderful, and it is possibly more fun to watch it without subtitles so that just like in real life you cannot understand what is being said in languages that you don't speak. Both Brenda Blethyn and Sotigui Kouyaté were excellent with their understated portrayals of parents from very different backgrounds who meet on common ground. The underlying tensions of the plot is developed through the film, which remained believable throughout. Highly recommended.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
What does an African Muslim refugee living in France share with a white
Christian widow from Great Britain? - The longing search of their
missing children after the London bombings in 2005.
With gentle and aesthetic camera movements and slow action progress Rachid Bouchareb portrays two distinct cultures - but as the movie goes on they turn out not to be that different after all. Ousmane (Sotigui Kouyaté) left his six year old son Ali with his wife in Africa to work as a woodsman In France. When he - many years later gets a call from he's worried wife in Africa telling him that she hasn't heard from their son - now living in London - since the bombings, Ousmane travels to London right away to look for him. While the mystic Ousmane wanders around the desert streets of London for hints and clues about his unknown son he comes across the widowed mother Elisabeth (Brenda Blethyn) several times who's more or less doing the same thing concerning her daughter. It sooner turns out that their children know/knew each other and together they search for answers.
London River (2009) is both a thrilling drama and a balanced picture of the suffering families in the shadow of the London terror-attacks. It's the movie that Hollywood unfortunately never got after 9/11.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
By coincidence I got to see this film on a 9/11. I have not seen any of the previous films of Rachid Bouchareb, but I heard a lot about 'Indigenes' and I liked 'Flanders' that he produced. This film is quite low tone, but emotional and direct. In the aftermath of the terror attacks in London two parents look for their children. She is an English farmer widower from a remote island, he is from Africa, a Muslim and guest worker in France. Everything separates the two at first sight - religion, language, race and especially prejudice. They will get together because of the shared fate of their children, and they will go together through the painful phases of inquietude, fear, hope, and despair. They get to know each other, but this does not prevent destiny to hit them. I liked the fact that the film does not try to soften in anyway their paths, and avoided some of the traps that other types of endings or intrigues place in similar movies. Multicultural London filmed in a neutral and yet familiar way is the perfect background of the story that includes some racial tensions elements without insisting too much on them. Without avoiding completely simplification and a feeling of expected this direct approach plays quite well, and is immensely helped by the great acting of the two lead characters, especially Sotigui Kouyaté. This is not the ultimate film about the events that shattered London in July 2005, but rather a simple story about how usual people get are impacted by such events, an efficient and direct movie even if not great cinema.
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