Saturday, January 12, 2008

The River

The River (Jean Renoir, 1951) [8]
Film is an image based medium, obviously, and a film that is visually stunning can cover up some less than stellar other qualities about said film. Renoir's The River is a film that should be enjoyed for its stunning visuals. There is perhaps no film of the classic Technicolor era that looks as brilliant as this one. The scenes of the Subcontinent seem so almost ready to burst they're so saturated with color. The images alone are enough to make the film required viewing even if the storyline is a bit maudlin and stilted. As telling the story through a young English girl growing up in India, the film itself will also look at India through Western eyes. This is not unsimilar from what Wes Anderson was doing in The Darjeeling Limited, the two have been compared in subject matter. But it raises the question in me how much of what is seen in this film is the real India? Or is it just a romanticized remembrance of the past? Harriet's narration is in the future, which could create an issue with credibility but I really don't think it matters too much. This isn't a documentary about India and while the exotic and "foreign" elements are present in the film, the story itself is about Western characters. My bigger issue comes from the film is too stilted at times, the result of using non-actors. For being the two main characters at the crux of the story, Harriet and Captain John are just to wooden at times. The story itself isn't above a sentimental coming of age love story that really causes the film to be about average. The end, however, turns the rest of the film completely on its head. Besides some of the best acting, the film really gets out of Harriet's head and lets the cinematic world around her flow more naturally. Renoir handles the complexities of the ending gracefully and ends with a fantastic final shot. Letting the images speak for themselves always work better than trying to say too much.

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