Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Top 100 Films - #13


Cinema had artists before Jean Renoir – Murnau, von Sternberg and many others were legitimizing film as art before he came onto the scene – but in Renior the medium had someone in direct lineage to one of the great Impressionists, and someone who approached film with a reverence for all forms of artistic expression. Early on, Renoir proved he was indeed his father’s son with the serene A Day in the Country, but never did he craft a film more poetic and lyrical than The River. Based on a Rumer Godden novel and unfolding on the banks of the Ganges, the film makes for an interesting companion to Black Narcissus in painting a picture of India before the partition, the P&P film beautifully realized from the confines of Pinewood Studios and Renoir’s masterpiece shot entirely on location. As a result, The River is the perfect encapsulation of a region at a specific moment in time. The perspective is thoroughly Western, crafted with respectful curiosity for the people, land and traditions that make up the world of the film. It does all this through the eyes of a child, adding both boundless wonder and ample naivety to the experience. Ultimately though, The River is less a snapshot of colonial India than an Impressionist’s rendering of it. The color is too stunning to be real, and the acting too wooden to be believable, but they’re ideal components in the broad strokes Renoir is painting. With The River, he simultaneously crafted one of the great unions of visual poetry and storytelling and carried his father’s torch into a medium that had yet to achieve maturity at the time of his death.

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