CAPSULE: In London two people from very different backgrounds forge an alliance when each looks for his/her child in the aftermath the July 2005 terrorist attacks. Though the arc of the story is fairly predictable, Brenda Blethyn and Sotigui Kouyate bring humanity to their roles. The points that LONDON RIVER loses from its predictability it gains back for two terrific performances. Franco-Algerian filmmaker Rachid Bouchareb gives us a moving story of two cultures in conflict and of the human understanding that can rise above that conflict. Rating: high +2 (-4 to +4) or 8/10
Elizabeth (played by Brenda Blethyn) is from a small community on Guernsey in the Channel Islands and is used to being around people like herself. Though well-meaning, she is provincial and suspicious of people she is unused to, especially people like the large population of Muslim immigrants moving into London. Her daughter Jane lives apart from her in London, but Elizabeth has not even visited her daughter's current apartment. Then come the July 7, 2005, terrorist attacks on London transit. Elizabeth wants to be sure that Jane was not caught up in the terror. Calling Jane repeatedly, Elizabeth hopes to hear that her daughter is safe, but gets no response. She determines she must go to London and find Jane.
What Elizabeth discovers in London only adds to her fears. She finds Jane's apartment is in a mostly Muslim neighborhood. To her shock she finds out that her daughter not only has been living with a Muslim man, Ali, but she was herself studying to become a Muslim. Elizabeth makes up a missing-person poster to try to locate Jane. She discovers that after the bombing there are many missing people and many such posters are going up on kiosks around the city. But through the poster she meets Ousmane (Sotigui Kouyate) who turns out to be the father of Ali.
Ousmane is a West African searching for his son just as Elizabeth is searching for Jane, but Ousmane does not know even what his son looks like. Ousmane has worked in France the previous fifteen years and has not seen his son since Ali was age six. Now the boy is really a stranger to him, but he has to find him. She repeatedly runs into Ousmane, her daughter's boy friend. Elizabeth is highly suspicious of this man of a different race and religion who wears dreadlocks and dresses so shabbily and differently from what she is used to. She blames Ousmane's son and Muslims in general for enticing Jane to change religions. Even more complicating (or perhaps un-complicating) her distrust is the knowledge that the transit attacks were done in the name of Ali's religion.
The arc of the story by director Rachid Bouchareb is simple and generally predictable from the beginning. It is almost cliché. But the story rises above cliché by centering on and making very human the relationship of these two so-very-different people on so similar a mission.
Sotigui Kouyate has played the West African stranger in a strange land before. In 2001's LITTLE SENEGAL he played a man sent to the United States by a vision in his dreams. That film, also directed by Rachid Bouchareb, has Kouyate bewildered by the strange life of New York City. His performance is usually an expressionless face and a stoic demeanor that speaks volumes by letting the viewer decide what he is feeling. He has a very deep sorrow that in addition to not knowing where his son is, he does not really know even who his son is. His quiet desperation and introspection contrasts with Blethyn's more than out-in-the-open manner. Her obsession with her own problems borders on rudeness particularly to the father of her son's lover. Yet each provides their relationship something the other person needs.
There is never much doubt where the story is going. But the contrast of personalities, of cultures, and of needs gives this drama its humanity. I rate London River a high +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 8/10. LONDON RIVER is available on DVD and for digital download as of March 6, 2012.
Film Credits: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1227787/
What others are saying: http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/london_river/
Mark R. Leeper firstname.lastname@example.org Copyright 2012 Mark R. Leeper