For Reel

The River (1951)
January 13, 2016, 10:27 pm
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: , ,

Director: Jean Renoir
3.5 Stars
The RiverOften called the masterpiece of director Jean Renoir’s post-war period, The River is a film of tremendous empathy, full of wisdom and a gentleness the recalls a great adolescent novel. It is also erred by the failing performances, which tend to range from passable to bad–the picture has seductive rhythms, but on a scene-by-scene basis, much of the drama that plays out falls flat. Most problematic is Thomas E. Breen as Captain John, which is the crucial role in that should enhance our understanding of the three women who vie for his affection. As the forgotten man archetype–he recently lost a leg in what we understand to be World War II–Breen shows a convincing awkwardness and excitability regarding the attention he gets, but doesn’t carry the weight of his own burdens. At the end of the film, he tells Harriet (Patricia Walters) that as humans we are met with situations that will either kill us a little bit or spur a rebirth. It’s a touching moment of compassion, one of many that one wishes were delivered by a more complete actor.  Regardless, Renoir’s vision of India was radical for the time (albeit still problematized by colonialist nostalgia) in that instead of suggesting a pronounced danger in the exotic, he embraces the Hindu religion by incorporating themes of renewal and rebirth, envisioning the Ganges River as a metaphor for the steady, insuppressible flow of life. Claude Renoir’s cinematography revels in the murky waters and clay bricks of the setting as much as he romanticizes traditional Indian celebrations–it is a remarkable visual achievement, showing a dynamism in its vision and serving as a counterpoint to Black Narcissus’ beautiful artifice.

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