U.S.A.| 1951. COLOUR. 99 MIN.

Jean Renoir wrote in ‘My Life and My Films’ that ”The River’, which looks like one of the most contrived of my films, is in fact the one nearest to nature.’ And it is an embracing of nature and the eternal cycle of life that Renoir felt growing in him as he worked for the first time in colour, and also in a non-Western landscape—that of India. Renoir was drawn to the idea of making a film there ‘without elephants and a tiger hunt’ after reading Rumer Godden’s novel, which was based on her own experiences as part of an English family living in Bengal. The central character is the teenage Harriet (Patricia Walters), the eldest of five children, and she and her friends, the beautiful Valerie (Adrienne Corri) and the Anglo-Indian Melanie (Radha Shri Ram), are all stirred by the visit of a young American pilot (Thomas Breen) wounded in the war. The result has a certain naivety of approach, as not all the performers were professional, Anglo-Indian tensions are only lightly touched upon, and there is a good deal of philosophising voice-over. But the film succeeds both as a gentle examination of the feelings of young girls, growing up and discovering the cruelties of adulthood, and as a unique visual poem. In this newly restored print (fully realising the exquisite Technicolor photography of Claude Renoir, Jean’s nephew), we can wonder again at a film in which beauty is never superficial and in which—to Western eyes and ears—life moves to a whole different beat.—David Thompson.

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