By Don Simpson | December 16, 2011
Director: Rachid Bouchareb
Writers: Rachid Bouchareb, Olivier Lorelle, Zoé Galeron
Starring: Brenda Blethyn, Sotigui Kouyaté, Francis Magee, Sami Bouajila, Roschdy Zem, Marc Baylis
Elisabeth (Brenda Blethyn) is a widowed farmer from Guernsey who finds herself fully immersed in the multi-racial population of London while desperately searching for her daughter Jane who has gone missing since the 7/7 terrorist attacks on London’s public transportation system. Like many other close-minded, xenophobic Westerners in the post-9/11 world, Elisabeth is deathly afraid of Muslims — and, unfortunately for Elisabeth, London “is crawling with Muslims!” But Elisabeth must confront her cultural ignorance and fears head-on while scavenging for any clues that may lead her to Jane.
Ousmane (Sotigui Kouyaté) is an elderly West African forester who has abandoned his elm trees to travel to London to look for his son Ali who has also disappeared since the 7/7 bombings. Writer-director Rachid Bouchareb’s London River intimately approaches the 7/7 bombings through the eyes of these two very different protagonists, toggling between Elisabeth and Ousmane’s individual narratives thus forging a link between their parallel quests. A twist of fate eventually drives Elisabeth and Ousmane together; and once Elisabeth is able to shed her ingrained anti-Muslim biases, the two of them are able to provide each other with some much needed emotional support.
If only all Westerners were more like Elisabeth, as London River fastidiously develops into an optimistic — yet totally believable, thanks in no small part to Blethyn and Kouyaté’s performances — representation of a cross-cultural friendship. All Bouchareb is saying is give peace a chance. If London River has one apparent motive, it is to inform the audience that not all Muslims are terrorists and Muslim families suffered just as much as Christians during the 7/7 bombings. Though the story seems overtly contrived at times, it is this very worthwhile message that makes London River a film that everyone should experience.