Reviewed by Marc Glassman
Rachid Bouchareb, director and co-writer w/Olivier Lorelle
Starring: Brenda Blethyn (Elisabeth Sommers), Sotigui Kouyaté (Ousmane)
On July 7, (7/7) 2005, Londoners were shocked by bombings on their buses that killed many innocent citizens. It was England’s 9/11, made worse by the revelation that the majority of the bombers were young Muslims who had been raised in England.
Rachid Bouchareb, an Algerian-born Parisian-based Muslim filmmaker, has chosen to dramatize this event in his new film London River. Turning a story of divisiveness into one that celebrates our mutual humanity, Bouchareb has created a story around two parents who are searching for their children in the wake of 7/7.
Elisabeth (Brenda Blethyn) is a farmwoman living on Guernsey whose daughter Jane has come to London to go to college. Ousmane (Sotigui Kouyaté) is a Malian tree expert, living in France, sent by his estranged wife to find their son Ali, whom he hasn’t seen in 15 years.
It soon becomes obvious that Ali and Jane were lovers–unbeknownst to their parents–and that they’ve both disappeared. Elisabeth rejects the odd, quiet Ousmane at first although both speak French and could bond just as easily. But their mutual suspicion allows for a better emotion to grow while the search continues.
In the end, Ousmane and Elisabeth grow to know and respect each other while they find out the truth of their children’s whereabouts.
Strong performances by Mike Leigh veteran Brenda Blethyn and stage actor Sotigui Kouyaté allow London River to transcend its liberal humanistic core. This is a film easy to endorse but hard to love. The story seems too didactic and simple to make it a great drama. But its intentions are pure–and the great leading actors mark London River as a worthwhile film.