The goblins have gone into hiding, the witches have returned to their day jobs, and yard waste containers are overflowing with leaves, for November is here; ready or not. The Tacoma Film Club is excited about the films this month, and their theme “coming of age”. This Friday we will screen THE RIVER (1951), directed by Jean Renoir, the son of impressionist painter Pierre-August Renoir. Returning from WWI as a wounded veteran, he directed his first film in 1924. He fled France, escaping the Nazis in 1941, and spent seven years in Hollywood. He was considered, “very talented, but just not one of us.” By 1947, he was struggling to get employment; and what a great time that was to decide to make a film in India. He met Nehru’s daughter on a flight, and she recommended Rumer Godden’s novel THE RIVER. He bought the option to film it, but could not get the American studios to finance it. He dreamed large, wanting Marlon Brando to play Captain John. Then he met Beverly Hills florist and real estate magnate, Kenneth McEldowney, who was a fledgling producer and agreed to finance the film. He decided to film in Technicolor, the first color film shot in India, and his first color feature. He made several trips to India, shooting documentary stock shots, used later in the film. He had to agree not to mention Gandhi, or show any of the squalor of the poor; to shoot a film from an outsider’s perspective.
Renoir: “Our script was not concerned with the actual living conditions in India, rather it was a story based on the immemorial themes of childhood, love, and death, a film about India without elephants or tiger hunts.”
Eric Rohmer wrote: “Renoir gave us the most beautiful color we have ever seen on the screen.”
Martin Scorsese saw the film with his father at 9 years old. He felt that this film and THE RED SHOES were the two most beautiful color films ever made. He sees THE RIVER 4-5 times a year; loves it.
Renoir met the young Satyajit Ray, who became an assistant director on the film; but who years later was uncomfortable that there were so few Indian characters in it.
The Indian/Hindu attitude of “consent” captivated Renoir and gave this film a cyclical timeless air. Renoir said,”After living in India for a year, I have become more peaceful. I would no longer worry if all of a sudden I had to turn into a bum.”
Renoir made 41 films between 1924-1970. Some of my favorites were THE LOWER DEPTHS (1936), GRAND ILLUSION (1937), RULES OF THE GAME (1939, then later in Hollywood he made SWAMP WATER (1941), THIS LAND IS MINE (1943), and WOMAN ON THE BEACH (1947).
Renoir said: “A director one great film in his life–then he breaks it into pieces and makes it again.”
Orson Welles frequently cited Renoir as the greatest film director of all time.
The screenplay was written by novelist Rumer Godden and Renoir over a six month period in Hollywood, then Ms. Godden was allowed to be on the set for the whole year the film was shooting in India.
Ian Christie wrote: “THE RIVER has survived falling out of fashion to re-emerge as a touchstone for a certain kind of modernity in cinema.”
THE RIVER (1951)
Directed by Jean Renoir @ 99 minutes
The film stars Patricia Walters, Nora Swinborne, Esmond Knight, Arthur Shields, Thomas E. Breen, and Suprova Mukerjee.
Synopsis: The story of three friends, all teenage girls, growing up in post WWII India, in Bengal, along the Ganges River. Their adolescent hearts are a flutter when they meet an older American soldier, wounded in the war, and they all fall in love with him. Their coming-of-age tale is touching, tinged with humor.
Tagline: Beauty…Mystery…Delightful Humor.
The film won Best Picture at the Venice Film Festival, and was nominated for two British BAFTA Awards.
Trivia: Esmond Knight, who played the father, had lost an eye in WWII in the battle to sink the Bismarck. Ironically he later played the Captain of one of the British vessels in the film SINK THE BISMARCK (1960). Thomas E. Breen, who played Captain John, really had lost a leg during the war. An amateur, his acting was criticized for its sophomoric qualities. Radha, who played Melanie, was a priestess and a dancer, who only consented to being in this one film; returning to her order and religious duties after. The cinematography was done by Claude Renoir, his nephew. Events in the film were supposed to have taken place in 1946, near the end of an era of British colonial rule.
Ian Christie wrote: “Unlike conflict-centered Hollywood narratives, which invariably end in some kind of resolution, Renoir’s film shows us that not all problems are soluble.”
Roger Ebert wrote: “Renoir is not interested in emotional manipulation, but in regarding lives as they are lived. Not everyone we like need to be successful, and not everyone we dislike need fail. All will be sorted out in the end–or perhaps not, which is also the way time passes and lives resolve themselves.”
So be sure to join us this Friday, November 4, 2011 for a screening of this classic Jean Renoir’s THE RIVER (1951), at 924 Broadway, in the Pythian Temple, street level, across from the Theater on the Square, in the heart of Tacoma’s Theater District. Look for our large TFC banner hanging above the door. If you enjoy fellowship and a meal, then come early and join many of us who feel the same way. A terrific meal will be prepared by the Phantom Director and Farishta. The free giveaway door prize will be your choice from some great DVD’s from my personal collection. The food is served at 6:30 p.m. and THE RIVER will screen at 7:15 p.m. The film runs 99 minutes, so things will conclude before 9:30 p.m. See you at the movies!