by Elaine Hegwood Bowen
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Set against the backdrop of the July 7 terrorist attacks in 2005, London River follows Elizabeth (BAFTA winner, Academy Award® nominee Brenda Blethyn) from a small farming community in Guernsey as she travels to London in the immediate aftermath of the bombings after failing to hear from her daughter.
Blethyn is disturbed by the confusion of the metropolis and above all, by the predominantly Muslim neighborhood where her daughter lived. Her fear and prejudice escalate when she discovers her daughter was converting to Islam as she keeps crossing paths with Ousmane (Berlin’s Silver Bear winner, Sotigui Kouyaté), a West African who has come from France to find his missing son.
Although they come from very different backgrounds, Blethyn and Kouyaté share the same hope of finding their children alive. Putting aside their cultural differences, they give each other the strength to continue the search and maintain their faith in humanity.London River is a movie that brings together two of my favorite actors in a desperate attempt to find their loved ones. Blethyn is a favorite of mines, since I first saw her in Secrets and Lies, and Kouyaté is a new actor to whom I’ve become exposed, since seeing him in Little Senegal.
While Blethyn searches for her daughter, Kouyaté searches for a son from whom he’s been estranged for at least 15 years, since he had moved to Paris, and the son had moved to London.
They both don’t want to face the inevitable, and Blethyn is really cold toward Kouyaté when they first meet. She is upset upon learning of her daughter’s conversion; she calls the cops on Kouyaté when he shows her a picture of his son and her daughter together. He only discovers what his son looks like now, because he enlists the help of others in the tight-knit Islamic community in London.
After being questioned by the cops, the two go about their business, but eventually Blethyn softens up and allows Kouyaté to come stay in her daughter’s apartment with her, since he is her only hope at finding her daughter, and he has suggested that he would soon have to return to Africa, because he has run out of money.
Afterward, the two set off looking for their children, holding out hope that they merely travelled to Paris together. Along the way, they learn that they have much in common; he works in forestry and she has a garden that she really loves back home. She frantically waits for a call from her daughter that never comes. In the end, they face reality together.
Cinema Libre brings this great film by three-time Academy Award® nominated director Rachid Bouchareb conveniently in your home via DVD and digital download platforms. Bouchareb says his films are always about the subject of meetings between different people, from different countries and different worlds. London River is more about the relationship between these two parents brought together by heartbreak than about the bombings themselves.
London River is available March 6. For more information, visit www.cinemalibrestudio.com
Elaine Hegwood Bowen is an editor, writer and film critic in Chicago, who also serves as a news editor for FilmMonthly.com
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