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Friday 20 October 2017, 14:39 pm.
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Back stage

True happiness is living life
London River (2009) is on today only (Tuesday) at 7 pm at the A/V Centre at Maru-a-Pula School by the Gaborone Film Society.
By Sasa Majuma (GMT +2)
Mmegi Online :: Back stage








This is an unusual film about parental love and loss across languages, cultures and nationalities.  It opens on the Island of Guernsey in the English Channel and in a forest in Paris, France.  It is the seventh of July 2005.

Elisabeth Sommers (played by Brenda Blethyn), a Roman Catholic, has a small farm on the island, with a large green house, vegetable production and a number of donkeys.  Her husband, who died in the Falklands war, is buried there.

Her daughter Jane, now around 20, has gone to study in London.  She hasn't seen her since December 2004 when Jane spent the Christmas holidays with her on the island.

Ousmane (the famous Malian actor, Sotigui Kouyate, who won a Silver Bear for Best Actor at the Berlin Film Festival for this role), a Muslim, has lived and worked in France for 15 years.  He is tall, thin and has graying dreadlocks.  He last saw his son, Ali, when he left Mali; the boy was then six-years-old.  Now 21, he also has gone to London to study.

Then comes the day four suicide bombs went off, three in the Underground and one on double-decker bus No 10 as it went through Tavistock Square.  In the four blasts 56 people died and more than 700 were injured.  When Jane does not answer either her landline or her cell phone, her mother is fearful.  She asks her brother Edward to take care of her farm and sets off by ferry and train to London.  A taxi drops her at the address where Jane has been living in Finsbury Park, but Elisabeth cannot believe where it is. It is in a Muslim community - flat 48A is above a butchery.  When the landlord, (Roschdy Zem) who is also the butcher sees her he agrees to let her in.

Elisabeth is bewildered by what she is learning about her daughter. She fears the worst.  She has a picture of her and is advised to make posters and spread them around the area asking for information about a "Missing Person, Jane Sommers". Then come trips to hospitals to read the list of the injured and morgues to identify the dead.

Ousmane has also come to London from Paris in search of his son, Ali. He has ended up at a small hotel, the Shelton, near Jane's flat.  His search takes him to the local mosque, where a helpful Imam (Sami Bouajila) talks to him. Ousmane has no idea what his son looks like or how he has changed over 15 years. Ali is a very common name. He has no photos. Ali, at 21, is a man now. He eventually is assisted by the Imam with a photo of Ali taken at a

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school where Arabic is taught.  He then is able to trace where Ali lived, but he had moved out a fortnight before.  Why is he in England?  Why did he move out?  Where has he gone?  He fears he will find that his son was one of those who set off the bombs.

Ousmane's and Elisabeth's paths keep crossing; they look at each other, but do not speak.  On a bridge over the railway tracks he sees a poster of Jane Sommers and realises that she is the girl sitting next to his son in the Arabic class photograph.  He calls the number on the Missing Person poster and Jane's mother answers.

Elisabeth has sufficient French that they can communicate. Why was my daughter at Arabic classes with your son?

"They knew each other at the Mosque". She runs away with the photo and goes to the police. Her stereotypes and biases colour her perceptions. "Where is my daughter?" The policeman, who is also a Muslim, is gentle and perceptive. He is the first to comprehend that two weeks ago Ali left his flat and started living with Jane in hers and that they both went missing together. The police are looking for DNA samples so they can identify the dead.

Ousmane and Elisabeth want to believe that their children are alive. "What is going on that she is learning Arabic?" "This place is crawling with Muslims".  When she meets the young woman who teaches Arabic she says to her, "Who speaks Arabic?" "We all do!" is the answer.

When Elisabeth finds more pictures of Ali and Jane together in her daughter's flat, she begins to face the reality that they were in love; that they had become a couple. Very slowly her attitude to Ousmane changes. They can begin the search again together. When the bombings are attributed to four young men of Pakistani origin living in Leeds, Ousmane is relieved. Then clues begin to appear as to what has happened to the young couple.

Brenda Blethyn, who has worked for years with Mike Leigh, is famous for her role in Secrets and Lies.  She had to learn French to play Elisabeth. Sotigui Kouyate acts in Peter Brooks Company in Paris.  The director says. "I wanted to put the two of them together for years".

London River is one hour and 28 minutes long.  It is rated 12+.  It is in English, and French, Arabic and Bambarra with English subtitles. The director is Rachid Bouchareb ("Little Senegal") from a screenplay written by Zoe Galeron, Olivier Lorelle and Bouchareb. The cinematographer is Jerome Almeras.  The sound editor is Franck Rubio.  The costumes are by Karine Serrano.  The music is by Amand Amar.
sasa_majuma@yahoo.co.uk

 

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