'London River' slow but intense

Director: Rachid BoucharebStars: Brenda Blethyn, Sotigui Kouyate, Sami Bouajila, Roschdy ZemTime: 1...

Director: Rachid Bouchareb
Stars: Brenda Blethyn, Sotigui Kouyate, Sami Bouajila, Roschdy Zem
Time: 1 hour, 27 minutes

LIZ BRAUN, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 2:07 PM ET

You could say London River is a film about family, big and small.

The film is set in July of 2005, right after the terrorist attacks in London when bombs were detonated in the underground and on a bus in Tavistock Square.

Two hundred miles away in Guernsey, Elizabeth (Brenda Blethyn) works on her small farm and watches news of the London bombings on television.

Elizabeth's adult daughter Jane lives in London; after a day and a half of not being able to reach Jane on the phone, Elizabeth sets off for the city to find out what's become of her daughter.

Her first surprise is finding that Jane lives in a neighbourhood with a mostly middle-eastern populace -- or, "Crawling with Muslims," as she nervously tells her brother on the phone. Jane slowly works up the courage to speak to neighbours and search for her daughter, visiting hospitals and speaking to the police. The police woman she first speaks to is black, and Elizabeth's discomfort is evident.

Parallel to Elizabeth's search for her daughter is a Malian man's search for his son. Ousman (Sotigui Kouyate) is a forester who has been working in France for many years. His wife calls him from Africa and tells him that their son, Ali, has been missing in London since the bombings. Ousman travels to London to search for his son, following the same path as Elizabeth. Ousman and Elizabeth seem to be very different people, but they have much more in common than they think.

And they're both fish out of water in London.

Their paths cross. It turns out that Jane and Ali knew each other well.

Elizabeth must get over a lot of fear and prejudice to accept her daughter's relationship with Ali and to get to know Ali's father, Ousman. Eventually, Elizabeth and Ousman work together to find out what became of their children.

Anyone familiar with the films of Rachid Bouchareb (Days of Glory; Outside the Law) may be surprised by how quiet a drama London River is. It is slow-moving and understated. For some, it will be far too slow and too uneventful, even though it packs an emotional wallop.

The film's message about these worried individuals and the larger family of all humanity is a bit obvious at times, but the performances keep you watching. Blethyn and Kouyate are an unexpected and engaging pair; the late Kouyate, who died earlier this year, won the Silver Bear at the Berlin Film Festival for his work in this film.

London River is partly in French, with English subtitles. It opens Thursday at the TIFF Bell Lightbox.

(This film is rated PG)


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