by guest writer
The River (1951) opened the eyes of the world to what was to become one of the cinematically unexplored territories of Asia. Jean Renoir left the US and went to India to film his adaptation of the novel by the same name by Indian writer Rumer Godden. The European director’s presence in India brought the attention of the local cinephile community. Among his apprentices were Satyajit Ray, one of the assistants on the film, and Subrata Mitra, Ray’s cinematographer, who would go on becoming themselves pillars of the world cinema.
What is appealing about The River is the main bone of its story: the flowing waters of Indus River that symbolize the separation between the two main religions – Hindu and Bengali – and create a union in a sacramental term when joy or sorrow are becoming mythical stages of life. The movie develops by use of documentary influenced footage mixed with film shooting in a manner closed to Neo-Realism. The director discovered and promoted a cast of actors that were able to convince that this was a piece of life that gently came out of a lost diary of a wandering man. Claude Renoir’s brilliant use of Technicolor brings the movie to an utmost artistic productivity. The colours in The River bear mythical Bengali significance and everything is used for a definite purpose. I don’t want to divulge too much for those of you who haven’t seen the film, so I will just mention the interesting fact that the plot is centered around three girls of different background and education, who are witnesses of their own grown-up process living in Bengal India.
Jean Renoir opened the paths for both Indian future directors to depict their own culture and European film-makers who became intrigued by India (e.g. Fritz Lang, Louis Malle, Roberto Rossellini, to name a few). An impressive independent production of one of the most enduring names in cinema’s history.
photo: stills from the film | Oriental International Films