Friday, April 16, 2010

The River (Jean Renoir, 1951)

I find myself with such dashed hopes watching Jean Renoir’s The River, a beautiful Technicolor film brimming with gorgeous soft hues and a cyclical feeling of interminable drift. What let me down was that the Indian culture must be seen from the outside by a British colonial family, very few of the Indians counting as actual characters. I suppose I must account for a double standard given my love for Black Narcissus and its clear Orientalism, but I find a difference between a studio production striving for loony, delirious cartoon horror than an on-location shoot designed to make the viewer a part of Indian culture. Except for Melanie, who herself is half-white, none of the Indians count for more than props, and except for the lovely shots of the river or of the bazaar or of Indian daily ritual, the majority of the film is upper-class British melodrama, India almost used as a backdrop. Though it is a stunning film, I felt as if in fully embracing his Impressionistic eye for color, Renoir was betraying his more impulsive shooting style. It’s closer to Powell and Pressburger filming Meet Me In St. Louis in India than it is to a close observance of an enlightening culture.

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