Sunday, November 18, 2007

The River (Jean Renoir, 1951)


The first film Jean Renoir made during his period of post-Hollywood recovery was also his first foray into Technicolor. An adaptation of Rumer Godden's semi-autobiographical novel, it was shot on the banks of the Ganges and it chronicles the dramas that befall the family of a British jute-factory manager during his wife's pregnancy. The focus in particular is on his daughter's plunge into puberty.

With irreproachable poise and diction, a lady named June Hillman reads out in voiceover sections from Godden's novel, which serve to ground the film within the realm of quaint, leaden exotica. It's a colonialist's view of Bengal, so the natives are given a single, unanimous character of serene docility. Their lovely dances and mysterious stories about life and death are used for decoration.

The cast is a mix of non-professionals and bad actors. Their performances though, are uniformly paltry.

Nevertheless figures as forbidding as Pauline Kael and Martin Scorsese have gushed over the film, chiefly due to its lyrical use of colour. Its use of colour is indeed lyrical and accounts for several pleasing passages where no one is speaking or where it's easy to ignore the person who is.

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