The River – The Criterion Collection #276 (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)
April 19, 2015 by Dennis Amith
“The River” is wonderful! Whether or not you consider this as Jean Renoir’s final masterpiece is of course subjective to the viewer, but I found the film to be unique. And for first time viewers of the film who have experienced Renoir’s other masterpieces, will see a different kind of Renoir film, but I have no doubt that like how I felt after watching, many will find this film to be enjoyable. Jean Renoir’s “The River” is highly recommended!
Image courtesy of © 2015 The Criterion Collection. All Rights Reserved.
TITLE: The River – The Criterion Collection #276
YEAR OF FILM: 1951
DURATION: 99 Minutes
BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition, 1:33:1 aspect ratio, Color, English Monaural LPCM 1.0, Subtitles: English
COMPANY: Janus Films/The Film Foundation/THE CRITERION COLLECTION
RELEASE DATE: April 21, 2015
Directed by Jean Renoir
Based on the Novel by Rumer Godden
Screenplay by Rumer Godden and Jean Renoir
Music by M.A. Partha Sarathy
Cinematography by Claude Renoir
Edited by George Gale
Production Design by Eugene Lourie
Art Direction by Bansi Chandragupta
Nora Swinburne as the Mother
Esmond Knight as The Father
Arthur Shields as Mr. John
Suprova Mukerjee as Nan
Thomas E. Breen as Capt. John
Patricia Walters as Harriet
Radha as Melanie
Adrienne Corri as Valerie
June Hillman as the Narration (voice)
Director Jean Renoir’s entrancing first color feature—shot entirely on location in India—is a visual tour de force. Based on the novel by Rumer Godden, the film eloquently contrasts the growing pains of three young women with the immutability of the Bengal river around which their daily lives unfold. Enriched by Renoir’s subtle understanding and appreciation for India and its people, The River gracefully explores the fragile connections between transitory emotions and everlasting creation.
While Jean Renoir had established himself as a legendary filmmaker with films such as “Grand Illusion”, “The Rules of the Game”, “The Lower Depths”, “La Bete Humaine” as his masterpiece within his established oeuvre, like many filmmakers who have their peaks, many go through their lows.
And for Jean Renoir during the 1950’s, he was not directing many films but inspired by Rumer Godden’s story that was featured in “The New Yorker”, Renoir wanted to create a film in India, to shoot it in Technicolor and to keep costs low, use nonprofessional actors.
The result is a faithful adaptation of Rumer Godden’s work and deals with an English family living near the Bengal river in India and a young teenager falling in love with a man, who has his eyes set on another young woman.
The film was a beloved film which director Martin Scorsese loved as a child and his non-profit organization dedicated to film preservation, the Film Foundation, would be instrumental in the restoration of the film.
And now, the film will be released on Blu-ray courtesy of the Criterion Collection.
“The River” revolves around Harriet (portrayed by Patricia Walters), who lives with her upper class family near the banks of the Ganges River in India and focuses on her experiences, which is narrated by Harriet as an older woman discussing her life near the river.
Her father (portrayed by Esmond Knight) runs a jute mill and she has five sisters and one brother named Bogie (portrayed by Richard R. Foster).
While her mother is expecting a child, they are taken care of by their live-in nanny and are influenced both by their Western and Eastern influences.
While Bogie is often seen enamored by a man playing a flute to play with a cobra, Bogie and his Indian friend start to do the same.
Meanwhile, their neighbor invites his cousin, Captain John (portrayed by Thomas E. Breen) to live with him on his plantation. A man who is self conscious that he has one leg (the other he lost in the war), both Harriet and her friend Valerie (portrayed by Adrienne Cori), fall for him.
While, Captain John’s attention is more towards the older Valerie, he also has an interest in Melanie (portrayed by Radha Burnier), amix-blood daughter from his cousin’s marriage to an Indian national who had died. But unlike the English girls that he has similarities with, his perspective and culture clashes with Melanie.
As Harriet writes her deepest thoughts in her diary, she tries to impress him with her knowledge of Hindu religion and a tale about Lord Krishna. But will Harriet be able to divert the Captain’s attention towards her, rather than her friend Valerie?
“The River – The Criterion Collection #276” is presented in 1080p High Definition (1:33:1 aspect ratio). Shot in Technicolor and having watched the previous Criterion Collection DVD release, there is a difference in terms of detail but also better color as skin tones are natural, saturation is very good and I saw no issues of flicker, heavy DNR, artifacts or banding.
According to the Criterion Collection, “the restoration of ‘The River’ was undertaken in the summer of 2004 by the Academy Film Archive, in association with the British Film Institute and Janus Films. Restoration funding was provided by the Film Foundation and the Hollywood Foreign Press Association. The picture was restored from the original three-strip 35 mm nitrate Technicolor camera negatives at Cinetech in Valencia, California, where the color timing was done by Kevin Warr.”
In addition, “This high-definition digital transfer was created on a Spirit DataCine film scanner, with the participation of editor George Gale, from the new 35 mm restoration interpositive. Thousands of instances of dirt, chemical stains, scratches, splices, warps, flicker and chroma breathing were manually removed using MTI’s DRS and Pixel Farm’s PFClean, while Digital Vision’s Phoenix was used for small dirt.”
AUDIO & SUBTITLES:
As for audio, “The River – The Criterion Collection #276” is presented in English LPCM 1.0 monaural. Dialogue is clear with no sign of hiss or crackle.
According to the Criterion Collection, “The sound was transferred from a 35 mm optical track print at DJ Audio in Studio City, California, and restored at Audio Mechanics in Burbank California”.
“The River – The Criterion Collection #276″ comes with the following special features:
- Introduction by Jean Renoir – (7:51) An introduction by Jean Renoir about “The River”.
- Martin Scorsese – (12:54) An interview with Martin Scorsese about how he became a fan of “The River” and Jean Renoir’s work.
- Around the River – (59:42) French filmmaker Arnaud Mandagaran traveled to India to make the 2008 documentary about the production of “The River”. Interviews with actor Radha Burnier, director Jean Renoir’s son Alain and director Satyajit Ray.
- Kenneth Mceldowney – (52:19) Audio excerpts taken from an interview with producer Kenneth McEldowney conducted by the Criterion Collection in 2000.
- Jean Renoir: A Passage Through India – (15:01) A video essay by film writer Paul Ryan on Jean Renoir’s approach to filming “The River”.
- Trailer – (2:37) The original theatrical trailer for “The River”.
“The River – The Criterion Collection #276” comes with a six-page insert with “Notes on the River” by Jean Renoir and the essay “A New Authenticity” by Ian Christie.
The first time I watched Jean Renoir’s “The River”, I was surprised because of how different it was compared to the past films he had made, but also how I imagined how many people in America would get their first glimpse of India possibly through this film.
While we know how Martin Scorsese was enamored with the film and helped restore “The River” and how he would introduce the film to Wes Anderson, who was influenced by the film and went on to create “The Darjeeling Limited”, the film also was instrumental for bringing together Jean Renoir and legendary Indian filmmaker Satayjit Ray.
But possibly the most amazing story to come out of the making of “The River” was the fact that Jean Renoir, known for a plethora of masterpieces in his oeuvre, was a filmmaker that was no longer on the top of the hill, but still determined to create films. And after reading an article by author Rumer Godden in “The New Yorker”, he wanted to take on a challenge of filming a movie in India but also with nonprofessionals.
And it helped the filmmaker that Godden would assist him in the screenplay but also creating a new scenario that was not featured in the original story, despite wanting to keep the film as faithful to the original story as possible.
As for the film, there is no question that the film is exotic but yet also unique for its time. An English family living in India, Indian servants and friends, a stoic captain with two young woman who are in love with him, a young boy and his Indian friend trying to tease a cobra combined with a beautiful setting of India, shot in Technicolor and utilizing nonprofessional actors.
Shot in documentary style, as Renoir’s goal was to shoot a film about childhood, love and death, the way that the film was shot, the fact that despite the family living in safety, are well-guarded and taken care of, despite the beauty of the area, there are dangers, their is heartbreak and there can be darkness.
While you can have a banal film about love, life and death in America or Europe, choosing India as the setting, incorporating a dream sequence about a village wedding, the scene about loss and a sad funeral, this film has a good sense of balance of captivating viewers by its cinematography but its pure charm (the acting may not be the best, but it works for this film) and to show that not all things in life can be happy, unless there is communication and willingness to understand one another, despite conflicts in culture, conflicts in age (and this also experienced during the filming of “The River” as Jean Renoir had to learn to work with an Indian setting, an Indian crew but also working with nonprofessionals).
But the film also works on another level as a coming-of-age film for Harriet, how she lived through a life of having her first love, having her first bite of emotional pain and jealousy that involves a man but also experiencing tragedy.
As for the Criterion Collection release, this 2015 Blu-ray release includes all the original special features from the DVD release and these are lengthy features including an insightful documentary, an introduction by Jean Renoir, an interview with Martin Scorsese and more!
Overall, “The River” is wonderful! Whether or not you consider this as Jean Renoir’s final masterpiece is of course subjective to the viewer, but I found the film to be unique. And for first time viewers of the film who have experienced Renoir’s other masterpieces, will see a different kind of Renoir film, but I have no doubt that like how I felt after watching, many will find this film to be enjoyable.
Jean Renoir’s “The River” is highly recommended!
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