I love London; I've lived here just shy of 2 years, but I feel more connected to my areas of the city than anywhere else I've lived. It is a city full of stories, of lore and mythology and perspectives. London River doesn't capture any of this poetry in the slightest.
Releasing a film about the July 2005 London bombings on the event's fifth anniversary is sure to garner some attention. However, London River also has a strange sort of notability due to its mostly French sources of funding, and its Franco-Algerian director, Rachid Bouchareb.
Bouchareb's work includes the historical pieces Days Of Glory and Outside The Law, which both interrogate France's treatment of its North African communities. It is fitting, therefore, that Bouchareb - in conjunction with co-writers Olivier Lorelle and Zoe Galeron - structures his look at the multicultural capital around two outsider narratives, as two parents travel to the UK to find their children in the chaotic aftermath of the bombings. In the process, London River effectively sidesteps direct comment and full-blown tragedy in favour of mild melodrama and a heartening dose of diversity-studies sermonising.
Guernsey farmer Elisabeth (Brenda Blethyn) leaves her all-white, all-Christian, Channel Island comfort zone for a North London melting pot, searching in vain for a daughter, she realises, that has far more to her life than has been communicated in her sporadic phonecalls home. It seems she has developed a friendship with a young African Muslim, who has also gone missing, and whose forester father, Ousmane (Malian-born Sotigui Kouyate), also travels to London to search for him.
Bouchareb clothes London River in a meditative, naturalistic style, with the camera given over to bustling vistas of London storefronts (read: Arabic-strewn kebab shops). Such a down-to-earth aesthetic befits the drama, which is less interested in the bombings themselves, than it is in the peripheral experiences of relatives.
And while the set-up - an ignorant almost-bigot from the sticks comes to terms with prejudice through the guidance of a sage Other - is hackneyed, predictable, and unconvincing at times (the meticulous casting of non-white London residents in most scenes is particularly curious), this is obviously just window dressing for the central performances.
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