Wednesday, September 28, 2011

The River (1951 film)

Based on the novel by Rumer Godden, The River is the story of three teenage girls from three different families whose lives are changed by the arrival of an American soldier as they fall for him. Directed by Jean Renoir and scripted by Renoir and Godden, the film is an exploration of three young girls growing up in the Ganges River in India as they deal with themselves and the man they fall for. Starring Nora Swinburne, Esmond Knight, Arthur Shields, Patricia Walters, Adrienne Corri, Radha Burnier, and Suprova Mukerjee. The River is a touching coming of-age film from Jean Renoir.

Harriet (Patricia Walters) is a young teenage girl living with her family near the Ganges River in India as her father (Esmond Knight) runs a jute mill nearby. Living with her mother (Nora Swinburne), a nanny (Suprova Mukerjee), four younger sisters, and a younger brother named Bogey (Richard Foster), Harriet also has a friend in Valerie (Adrienne Corri) whom she often spends her time with. The girls also have another friend in the half-British/half-Indian Melanie (Radha Burnier) who just returned from school as she is set to marry a fellow Indian named Ram (Singh Sajjan Singh). When Melanie’s father (Arthur Shields) reveals that an American cousin of his is coming to visit, Harriet and Valerie are excited as they meet Captain John (Thomas E. Breen).

Captain John, a wounded American soldier with a prosthetic left leg, is invited to a party at the home of Harriet’s father as Valerie flirts with him leaving Harriet and the more reserved Melanie to look on. Yet, Harriet tries to win over though he treats her like a child as he is interested in the quieter Melanie while putting his attention towards Valerie. When Harriet reads him stories from her secret book, he is intrigued though Harriet finds herself competing with Valerie for Captain John’s affections. Captain John though, tries to deal with his own haunted memories of war as he tries to get into conversations with Melanie. When a family tragedy occurs, things become complicated as everyone comes to term with the events that has happened in these past months.

The film is a coming-of-age tale that’s told from the perspective of one of the girls who reflects on her life when she was a teenager that is voiced by June Hillman. Throughout her narration, she describes the landscapes as well as the people and the holidays that happen. The narration also describes what this character is thinking about when it involves a few characters as she dwells on how things could’ve been done differently. Jean Renoir and novelist Rumer Godden create a story where it is about a teenage girl who is younger than her friends as she struggles with growing pains. At the same time, she has to compete with two other girls who are more experienced and have much more to offer to this soldier. The script is a great study of a girl coming of age while dealing with her surroundings and the large family she lives in.

The direction of Jean Renoir is sumptuous for the way he films India with wonderful wide shots and the intimacy he creates in character-driven scenes. Notably the party scenes as he always have the camera to see what is going on and knowing where to position it to see people dancing. He also knows how to get the actors to move at the same time in terms of creating a natural reaction to situations such as two or three of the girls waiting for news as they all stand up from stairs at the same time. For other compositions such as Captain John going after one girl, Renoir uses the frame to have the characters be positioned in different places so they can all be in the frame.

For a lot of the scenes involving the people and the location they’re in, Renoir goes for a documentary approach for the audience to see the world of Indians in the Ganges River. Notably by using the camera to get wide shots of this world that seems very foreign to a lot of people at the time in 1950s. There is a richness to the way Renoir shot those scenes as well as playing to its spirituality that includes scenes that is told by Harriet from her book. One of which involves the Hare Krishna and his bride where Renoir keeps his camera focused on the bride’s dance without cutting relentlessly and make it engaging. The overall work that Renoir did is phenomenal as he creates a film that is hypnotic but also universal in its theme of growing up.

Cinematographer Claude Renoir does a gorgeous job with the film‘s lush yet colorful cinematography. Shot in a Technicolor print, the look of the film has this great detail to the coloring from the skies to the look of the trees. The photography also has this wonderful approach to lighting for many of the interiors to play up the intimacy and mood that is present during the scenes in the film. Editor George Gale does an excellent job with the editing in maintaining a straightforward approach to the cutting while using transitional fade-outs to move the film going at a leisured pace.

Production designer Eugene Lourie and art director Bansi Chandragupta do a great job with the art direction for the film that includes the home of Harriet and her family and the home of Melanie and her father which are very colorful to mix the idea of Indian and English culture. The film’s score by M.A. Partha Sarathy is superb for its mix of soothing orchestral music and traditional Indian music filled with sitars and percussions. The latter of which plays to some of the film’s mythology in the stories that Harriet tells including some of scenes involving the locals in the film.

The casting is extraordinary as it includes appearances from Cecelia Wood, Jane and Jennifer Harris, and Penelope Wilkinson as Harriet’s younger sisters, Nimai Barik as Bogey’s friend Kamu, Singh Sajjan Singh as Melanie’s fiancĂ© Ram, and Richard Forster as Harriet’s animal-loving brother Bogey. Nora Swinburne is very good as Harriet’s caring mother while Suprova Mukerjee is excellent as the warm yet fun nanny. Arthur Shields is also good as Melanie’s kind-hearted father while Esmond Knight is wonderful as Harriet’s father who helps her deal with her growing pains. Thomas E. Breen gives a fine performance as the charming though troubled Captain John who tries to deal with three girls as well as his own sense of alienation over his days as a soldier.

Radha Burnier is radiant in a quiet yet reserved performance as Melanie, the oldest of the three girls who deals with Captain John’s presence as well as the way the other girls are trying to vie for his affections. Adrienne Corri is brilliant as Valerie, the more cultured girl who likes to ride a horse as she does everything she can to win Captain John’s heart while being flirtatious and petty at times. Finally, there’s Patricia Walters in a fantastic performance as Harriet by making her lively and dramatic to exemplify the growing pains she’s going through in this amazing performance.

The River is a rich yet magnificent film from Jean Renoir. Featuring a superb cast, intoxicating locations that is captured by Claude Renoir’s cinematography, and a vibrant music soundtrack. It’s a film that plays true to the world of growing up in a place as exotic as India as three girls deal with the growing pains they face throughout the film. In the end, The River is a superb yet mesmerizing film from Jean Renoir.

Jean Renoir Films: (Backbiters) - (La Fille de l’eau) - (Charleston Parade) - (Une vie sans joie) - (Marquitta) - (The Sad Sack) - (The Tournament) - (The Little Match Girl) - (Le Bled) - (On purge bebe) - (Isn’t Life a Bitch?) - (Night at the Crossroads) - Boudu Saved from Drowning - (Chotard & Company) - (Madame Bovary (1933 film)) - (Toni) - A Day in the Country - (Life Belongs to Us) - (The Lower Depths (1936 film)) - (The Crime of Monsieur Lange) - Grand Illusion - (La Marseillaise) - La Bete Humaine - Rules of the Game - (Swamp Water) - (This Land is Mine) - (Salute to France) - (The Southerner) - (The Diary of a Chambermaid (1945 film)) - (The Woman on the Beach) - (The Golden Coach) - (French Cancan) - (Elena and Her Men) - (The Doctor’s Horrible Experiment) - (Picnic on the Grass) - (The Elusive Corporal) - (The Little Theater of Jean Renoir)

© thevoid99 2011

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