London River: Film Review

Set in the tragic aftermath of the terrorist bombings on July 7, 2005, "London River" is the compelling drama of two parents in search of their missing children.

BERLIN -- Set in the tragic aftermath of the terrorist bombings on July 7, 2005, London River is the compelling drama of two parents in search of their missing children. French director Rachid Bouchareb (Days of Glory) brings great sensitivity to the fictionalized tale, which goes a step beyond the obvious in its description of England's multiracial society scarred by deep-seated prejudice but capable of change. Without glossing over the tale's hard edges, the film ends on a positive note of ethnic tolerance that should make it more accessible to audiences.

A major asset is the casting of Brenda Blethyn in the central role of a farm woman from Guernsey who cannot locate her young daughter after the bombings. She is paired opposite veteran African actor Sotigui Kouyate as the forlorn Muslim father of a boy who is missing. Both arrive in London on the same desperate mission. When they discover their kids were living together and taking classes in Arabic, their worlds begin a dizzying overlap.

The traditionally imagined script is fluid but contains very few surprises. Bouchareb and fellow scripters Olivier Lorelle and Zoe Galeron underplay the morbid fascination of disaster movies, opting to keep the tv news reports of the bombings and morgue visits to a respectful minimum. Focus is steadily on the widowed Elisabeth Sommers (Blethyn) as she stumbles onto the life of a daughter she knew very little.

Her search through London is paralleled to that of Ousmane (Kouyate), an African living in France who has not laid eyes on his son since he was six. While Elisabeth stays in her daughter's apartment in a Muslim neighborhood (her first surprise), Ousmane camps out in a cheap hotel. Their first meeting ends with Elizabeth irrationally believing he knows where her daughter is and calling the police.

As their paths continue to overlap, Elisabeth's fear and distaste of Ousmane slowly melts, offering this oddly matched couple the consolation of mutual support when things look darkest. Creating an undercurrent of suspense is the fact that their children's fate remains unknown until the film's final scenes.

Blethyn delivers another subtly effective performance that avoids schmaltz without denying the real anguish and pain felt in such circumstances. With his loping walk and deeply lined face, Kouyate brings tremendous dignity and sensitivity to the role of the father, who has to deal with the additional, horrifying suspicion that his son could be a terrorist.

An able technical team creates the neutral backdrop of a quietly realistic cityscape, well contrasted to the idyllic natural world of Guernsey and French forests.

Production: 3B Prods., The Bureau, Arte, Tassili Films.
Cast: Brenda Blethyn, Sotigui Kouyate, Sami Bouajila
Director: Rachid Bouchareb
Screenwriters: Rachid Bouchareb, Olivier Lorelle, Zoe Galeron
Producers: Jean Brehat, Rachid Bouchareb
Director of photography: Jerome Almeras
Production designer: Jean Marc Tran Tan Ba
Music: Armand Amar
Costumes: Karine Serrano
Editor: Yannick Kergoat
Sales: Elle Driver
No rating, 87 minutes

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