The River (Renoir) DVD
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Directed by Jean Renoir
Produced in 1951
Main Language - ENGLISH/BENGALI
It's easy to draw superficial comparisons between The River and Black Narcissus. Both are based on Rumer Godden novels about the sexual awakening of gauche young Englishwomen in a southern Asian setting and shot in ravishing Technicolor. But while Powell & Pressburger staged their melodramatic extravaganza entirely in the studio, Jean Renoir shot The River on location, and was so taken with India that his film became as much an ethnographic study as a piece of storytelling.
Typically, he insisted that people perform their own songs and dances in their own language, and the film's gorgous colour scheme (it was Renoir's first film in colour) arose naturally out of the settings - the Diwali celebrations, with their endless twinkling points of light, are particularly evocative. So too is the overarching themes of birth, death and renewal, symbolised by the great river Ganges of the title and dramatised by the travails of an English family (headed by Nora Swinburne and Esmond Knight, with a young Adrienne Corri as their oldest daughter) as they deal with various life-changing events including the arrival of a handsome but wounded American pilot and a devastating bereavement.
Renoir treats the resulting jealousies and emotional outpourings with the impeccably even-handed approach that characterises all his finest work. His treatment of the budding desires of aspiring poet Harriet (Patricia Walters) is particularly sensitive, no doubt helped by Godden's direct involvement as co-screenwriter and on-set adviser.
The DVD includes a video analysis by filmmaker Kumar Shahani and seven fascinating archive films shot in India between 1899 and 1945, two of them in Technicolor by the great Jack Cardiff.
Michael Brooke on 15th August 2006
Author of 145 reviews
A lovingly restored print of Renoir's rite-of-passage tale of three sisters living in Bengal, India, whose lives are thrown into disorder following the arrival of an American pilot.
Length: 99 mins
Aspect ratio: 1.33 Full Screen
Format: DVD Colour
Released: 7th August 2006
Cat No: BFIVD619
- 2 discs. Specially commissioned filmed introduction to The River by Indian filmmaker Kumar Shahani
- Seven rarely-seen short films set in India (1899-1945), preserved in the bfi National Film and Television Archive. Among them are two silent films showing the changes in jute production and two 1930s films photographed in Technicolor by British cinematographer Jack Cardiff
- Fully illustrated booklet including a film essay and Rumer Godden interview by David Thompson, a director's biography and notes on the seven short films.
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