Parental instinct isn't just a strong force, it's an infinite one. The drive to take care of your children spans space and time. The two parents in 'London River' know all too well what it's like to worry about your kid's well-being. Whether you've been there every step of the way, from their young lives to adulthood; or if you've sat on the sidelines and watched from a distance, loving parents care deeply about their children. It's hard-wired into our human psyche. It doesn't matter how long we've gone without seeing our children, once we realize they're in trouble we'll do anything to make it better for them.
The time is 2005. London has been rocked by suicide bombers boarding one bus and three subway cars. Elisabeth Sommers (Brenda Blethyn) watches the news from her farm house on the island of Guernsey. Her daughter is going to college in London; naturally she's worried about her. Like all mothers would do, she picks up the phone and tries to get in touch with her daughter just to see if she's okay. After a half dozen messages she switches into full Mother Mode. She packs her bags and heads to London to track down her daughter. She fears the worst.
It's impossible not to feel for her. Whether you have kids or not, her plight is real. We can feel her frustration as she posts flyers with her daughter's picture, hoping someone will call. We commiserate with her as she gets little help from the police who are already overworked because of the attacks. We feel dizzy and disoriented as she wanders the streets of London, searching for anyone who might know her daughter. The dread builds as she visits the nearby hospitals to see if her daughter is one of the injured.
Another parent, just as earnest and loving has traveled to London to find his son. Ousmane (Sotigui Kouyaté) is a frail man. He hasn't seen his child since he was six years-old. However, parental instinct knows no time. After hearing about the attacks Ousmane heads to London to try and find his now grown-up son. Kouyaté carries a powerful presence on screen. He may appear frail and gangly; he's anything but. Ousmane is a character who is at his most powerful when he's silent. It's a tremendous acting job from Kouyaté, but you get the feeling that he's even in real-life he's an imposing force of humanity.
Ousmane and Elisabeth finally meet up and find out that their children knew each other. Elisabeth is hampered by racial and religious discrimination which she makes no effort to hide. Ousmane is Muslim, and Elisabeth is already on edge because the attacks were carried out by extremists.
Here's a movie that is so simple, yet exceptionally powerful. Two parents, driven by their paternal duties, put their lives on hold to find their children. It's an emotionally tugging journey which never seems like it's trying too hard. There's no sense of false sentimentality here. The voyeuristic screenplay by director Rachid Bouchareb is purely observational. There aren't any clever ploys or plot devices to extract our tears. No, the tears come naturally.
'London River' is one of the most human movies I've ever seen. It's unassuming and will generally be passed over when people are out hunting for Blu-ray buys, but I'll do what I can to call people's attention to this stellar little drama. A mother searching for her daughter; a father searching for his son. Drama doesn't get more basic, rawer, or more powerful than that.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
This is a Cinema Libre Studio release. It comes on a 25GB Blu-ray Disc and is packaged in a standard Blu-ray keepcase.
Even though 'London River' was filmed recently it has an aged look about it. You will be able to tell easily that the movie was filmed with 16mm film. It has that grainy, overly soft look so often produced by 16mm. So, the 1080i image is a very soft video presentation indeed.
Detail is soft, but extreme close-ups do reveal the rugged age lines in Sotigui Kouyaté's face, and the grief-stricken furrowed brow of Brenda Blethyn. Mid-range shots are pretty much void of anything approaching fine detail. Textures are soft, as are edges. There's a hazy look about the entire movie, most likely due to the film it was shot on.
I have no real problem with the aged look of the 16mm. In essence it gives the film an added layer of humanistic feel. It also feels very filmic. However, I did notice a technical encoding issue that should've been dealt with, and therefore brings the movie's score down considerably. Around the 1:21:00 timestap there's a black background behind Elisabeth. It's a truly emotional scene, which makes it all the more worse when the black background suddenly starts jumping with all sorts of encoding errors. Gray lines pulsate back and forth and then a checker board pattern appears, and then disappears, only to reappear again. It's a blatantly obvious error that should've been caught and corrected before it was sent out to store shelves. The same error can be seen when the credits start rolling. The black background of the credits is hampered with the same macro-blocking type of display that ruined that one scene in the movie.
The audio is also a source of disappointment. All we're given here is a lossy Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo mix that really doesn't do all that it could've done if the movie were provided a lossless surround sound presentation.
As it is the Dolby Digital Stereo mix features hard-to-hear dialogue. The music and the dialogue fight each other for breathing room. Both of the main characters speak in whispers and hushed voices, so hearing them is even more taxing.
A movie of this quality deserves a much better mix to convey the deep emotional aspects of what is happening. This lossy mix fails to live up to the material it's accompanying. It feels rushed, without a real thought of trying to make it sound like it could.
'London River' is a powerful emotional journey that shouldn't be taken lightly. It's built upon the basest of human instincts: love for our children. It never feels contrived or cliché. The emotions here feel real. These characters feel real. Their lives feel real. It's that authentic nature of the film that makes it such a moving, humbling experience. I connected with this film. I connected with its characters and their dreadful situation. It may not be a happy, uplifting story, but it's certainly one worth telling.
I just wish that the movie was given a better Blu-ray release. The video is plagued with obvious blocking errors and the audio fails to live up to the emotional tone set by the movie itself. The special features are thin to say the least. In other words this is a great flick, but a bad disc. This really is a diamond in the rough and it's very much worth a look!