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An adolescent English girl comes of age in India.
For more about The River and the The River Blu-ray release, see the The River Blu-ray Review published by Dr. Svet Atanasov on April 9, 2012 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.5 out of 5.
Director: Jean Renoir
Writers: Rumer Godden, Jean Renoir
Starring: Nora Swinburne, Esmond Knight, Arthur Shields, Suprova Mukerjee, Thomas E. Breen (I), Patricia Walters
» See full cast & crew
The River Blu-ray Review
Reviewed by Dr. Svet Atanasov, April 9, 2012
Nominated for Golden Lion Award and winner of International Award at the Venice Film Festival, Jean Renoir's "The River" a.k.a. "Le Fleuve" (1951) arrives on Blu-ray courtesy of French distributors Carlotta Films. The supplemental features on the disc include original theatrical trailer; interview with director Martin Scorsese; documentary film directed by Arnaud Mandagaran; and more. In English, with optional French subtitles for the main feature. Region-B "locked".
The majority of the film takes place in and around the beautiful mansion of a wealthy British family not too far away from the banks of the great Ganges River. The head of the family is a busy man (Esmond Knight) who manages a rather large jute factory. He is well respected by his partners and the locals. His wife (Nora Swinburne) is a quiet but stern woman who unreservedly supports him. The two have five children, four girls and a boy, and are expecting their sixth.
The mansion is often visited by the soft-spoken neighbor Mr. John (Arthur Shields), who has lost his beloved Indian wife and now lives alone. Mr. John likes to spend time with the kids and occasionally talk to the staff. Everyone, including some of the kids, knows that he is lonely.
The arrival of Captain John (Thomas E. Breen), Mr. John's handsome American cousin who has lost a leg in the war, changes life in the mansion. He immediately impresses the romantic Valerie (Adrienne Corri), whose father is the wealthy owner of the jute factory. Captain John also quickly inspires her best friend in the mansion, Harriet (Patricia Walters), who spends most of her time writing poetry in her secret diary, to dream beautiful dreams.
Around the same time Captain John appears, Mr. John's daughter, Melanie (Radha), who has just graduated from a Western school, returns home. Like Valerie and Harriet, Melanie is also immediately struck by Captain John's beauty.
In the days that follow, Valerie, Harriet, and Melanie begin competing for Captain John's heart. Each of the girls believes that he is a perfect man with whom they could be happy -- though they all see him differently. As they observe each other, and Captain John, they learn invaluable lessons about life.
Based on Rumer Godden's novel, Jean Renoir's The River is a borderline meditative film that captures the rhythm of life in India, a country rich in history and culture. It was the French director's first color film, and the first Technicolor film to be shot on location in India.
Despite the lush visuals, many of which very much remind of Pierre-Auguste Renoir's impressionist paintings, there is a strong sense of realism in the film. Plenty of the documentary footage Renoir shot while visiting India, for instance, is used to create the framework within which all the drama is set. As a result, hardly any of the dilemmas the girls are eventually presented with feel dated and trivial (a large portion of the film, for instance, is dedicated to Melanie's quiet struggle with her identity).
Color is treated as a key character. It evolves just as the girls' feelings towards Captain John do. Natural light and shadow are also carefully used by Renoir to capture as best as possible the authentic beauty of the landscapes seen in the film.
The overwhelming majority of the actors Renoir used did not have professional training. However, the elaborate ritual performances and ceremonies many of them contributed to are amongst the highlights in the film.
During the pre-production process Renoir met with Satyajit Ray, who accompanied him in his search of locations around Calcutta. (Later on, Ray was credited as second unit assistant director). Renoir also hired Subrata Mitra, who would eventually become Ray's cinematographer, to take stills.
Note: In 1951, The River was nominated for Golden Lion Award and won International Award at the Venice Film Festival.
The River Blu-ray, Video Quality
Presented in an aspect ratio of 1.34:1, encoded with MPEG-4 AVC and granted a 1080p transfer, Jean Renoir's The River arrives on Blu-ray courtesy of French distributors Carlotta Films.
Restored by the Academy Film Archive, in cooperation with the British Film Institute and Janus Films (with the restoration funded by The Film Foundation and the Hollywood Foreign Press Association), The River has literally been given a new life. In fact, I would go on record here and state that this is the most impressive restoration of a Technicolor film I have seen released on Blu-ray to date, the excellent restoration for the beautiful The Red Shoes included.
Detail is excellent, both during close-ups and large panoramic scenes. Clarity and depth are also enormously pleasing. What impresses the most, however, are the lush colors. There are so many scenes here that truly look like moving pictures (see screencapture #3). During the second half of the film, where most of the rituals are, there are also some unbelievably fluid Technicolor sequences that should put a big smile on viewers who project their films on large screens. Furthermore, there are absolutely no traces of problematic digital tinkering. Unsurprisingly, the film has a consistently pleasing organic look. The restorers have also made sure that there are no annoying flecks, scratches, or larger damage marks and stains. There are no stability issues to report in this review either. All in all, The River has transitioned to Blu-ray in spectacular fashion, and there is absolutely no doubt in my mind that at the end of 2012 it will be considered one of the year's very best releases. (Note: This is a Region-B "locked" Blu-ray release. Therefore, you must have a native Region-B or Region-Free player in order to access its content).
The River Blu-ray, Audio Quality
There is only one audio track on this Blu-ray disc: English DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0. For the record, Carlotta Films have provided optional French subtitles for the main feature.
The audio has been thoroughly cleaned up - there are no pops, cracks, heavy hiss, or annoying dynamic fluctuations - and then stabilized as best as possible. Unsurprisingly, it has excellent depth and very good fluidity. The exotic music also sounds full and well rounded, not anemic and lacking depth (as it sounds on Criterion's R1 DVD release of The River). Also, there are no sync issues, distortions, or audio dropouts to report in this review.
The River Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
The River Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
I think it is fair to say that without Martin Scorsese many of these legendary classic films that are now slowly making their way to Blu-ray may not have been restored. I realize that there are plenty of people at The Film Foundation, Janus Films, the National Film Preservation Foundation and other institutions that also deserve a lot of credit, but without the American director's passion for classic films I highly doubt we would have seen The Red Shoes, Le Amiche, Paths of Glory, All About Eve, and now The River, among others, look as impressive as they do.
French distributors Carlotta Films' presentation of Jean Renoir's legendary film is outstanding. If you reside in Region-B land, this is one release you absolutely cannot afford not to have in your library. VERY HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.
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The River Blu-ray, News and Updates
• Carlotta Films: Renoir, Kobayashi, Powell and Pressburger in 2012 - December 1, 2011
Last week, Carlotta Films announced that they will release on Blu-ray Jerry Schatzberg's Puzzle of a Downfall Child (February 22). Now the French distributors have revealed that they are also planning to release on Blu-ray Jean Renoir's The River (March 21), Michael ...
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