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Thursday, May 29, 2008

THE RIVER (1951)

Jean Renoir’s film about a British family interacting with India & its culture looks better than ever. Literally so in this revelatory restoration via Criterion DVD, but also since Renoir’s loose narrative & mix of actors (amateurs & pro) no longer stands quite so alone against Hollywood formula hegemony. Fittingly, the film moves like a great river, constantly changing, yet staying much the same; happening now & long ago. The voice-over narration looks back to . . . when? The time period is vague, but the images and feelings are specific, highlighted by a quartet of romantically entwined principals (one a Titian-haired beauty right out of an August Renoir canvas), & the tragic loss of a child by a blameless cobra. ("Everyone has their reasons," as Renoir knows, even a snake.) The film, from Rumer Godden’s semi-biographical novel, is moving family drama, stunning socio-cultural document, philosophical enquiry and entirely miraculous. (Don't let some of the awkward, even raw, acting put you off. You get used to it. In fact, it almost becomes endearing.)

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