London calling: a review of “London River”

Movie review
London River
Directed by Rachid Bouchareb
2011 (U.S. release), 87 min., Not Rated

The French-born writer/director Rachid Bouchareb, who is of Algerian descent, is arguably among the best political filmmakers currently making movies in the world. His 2006 Days of Glory is a stylishly made period piece set during the Second World War that tackles an overlooked subject: The role of North Africans who fought on the same side of – as opposed to “for” – France during WWII. As I recall, this Cannes Film Festival and Cesar winning feature, which was also Oscar-nominated for Best Foreign Film, resulted in reopening the issue in France of the soldiers of Algerian, etc., descent who were denied the veterans’ benefits promised to them for fighting against the Axis powers, just as Filipino combatants were similarly denied the pledges America made to them if they fought the Japanese. (Moral of the story: Never trust the word of an imperialist.)

Bouchareb’s last film, the stunning 2010 Outside the Law, deals with the Algerians who brought the war home to France during Algeria’s long independence struggle, and was the helmer’s third Oscar contender in the Foreign Film category.

London River, which is Bouchareb’s latest feature to be distributed in the U.S., is different from these previous pictures, which have the epic sweep of revolutionary masterpieces such as Gillo Pontecorvo’s 1966 The Battle of Algiers and Soviet director Vsevold Pudovkin’s 1920s Mother and The End of St. Petersburg.

London River, however, focuses not on the struggle per se but on the impact of violence upon victims. Nevertheless, like Days of Glory and Outside the Law, and indeed Bouchareb’s entire oeuvre, London River is a political film, inspired by the July 7, 2005, terrorist bombings of public transport in the U.K. capital. When the daughter of Elisabeth (British actress Brenda Blethyn) and son of Ousmane (Mali-born actor Sotigui Kouyate) go missing after the blasts, they converge on London to try and find their missing adult children: She from the isle of Guernsey; he, from France, where Ousmane has migrated to from Sub-Saharan Africa to work for the forestry service.

During their separate quests to find out if their children survived the explosions Elisabeth and Ousmane inevitably meet one another. As they search for their children, the mother and father discover startling secrets about them that recall Blethyn’s earlier role in Mike Leigh’s touching 1996 Secrets & Lies.

The film is actually about the parents’ interaction and relationship, which evolves from deep suspicion and mistrust (if not out and out racism) on the Brit’s part towards a mutual bond, which their children, unbeknownst to both of them, had actually experienced.

Blethyn, who was so life-affirming and wonderful in Secrets & Lies, delivers another stellar, poignant performance, as does Kouyate. The cast includes some of the skilled regulars from Bouchareb’s ensemble who appeared in both of his aforementioned pictures, Roschdy Zem (2008’s The Girl From Monaco) and Sami Bouajila (2011’s Carre Blanc).

Co-writer/director Bouchareb explores the unlikely cross-cultural friendship that evolves between the Christian woman and Muslim man, which serves as hope and a possible antidote for the so-called “clash of civilizations” that triggered the terrorist attacks in London.

After the terrorist strikes in London, as I remember, Britain’s then-Prime Minister Tony Blair denied that the bombings had anything to do with the U.K’s participation in the invasion of Iraq. Subsequent to Blair’s unfounded assertions, the “martyr” videos of the Islamic perpetrators of the bombings came to light, wherein Britain’s role in attacking Iraq was indeed cited as motivation for the terrorist sneak attack in London. Like the Algerians living in France depicted in Outside the Law, they had “brought the war home” – but war criminal Blair was, but of course, still unable to accept the consequences for his own crimes against humanity, the hate that hate inevitably produces.

Bouchareb continues to explore the interrelationship between peoples, and is now working on an Arab American trilogy. He recently wrapped principal photography on the first third of the trilogy called Just Like a Woman, co-starring Sienna Miller and Roschdy Zem.

I for one look forward to this important political filmmaker’s next work, as should all cineastes who love fine political films and moving dramas.

 LONDON RIVER PREMIERES 12/16 at Laemmle’s Royal Theatre (11523 Santa Monica Blvd., West LA, 90025,

  • Fri 12/16 – Q & A following the 7 pm-ish show with Jihad Turk, Director of Religious Affairs at the Islamic Center of Southern California, in conversation with Levantine Center cofounder Jordan Elgrably.
  • Sat. 12/17 – Q & A features writer-professor Jawad Ali,
  • Sun 12/18 – Q&A with Shakeel Syed, executive director of the Islamic Shura Council of Southern California.


Photo: In the drama London River, Sotigui Kouyaté plays Ousmane, a Muslim immigrant in search of his missing son after the July 7 terrorist attacks in London.  Academy Award nominee Brenda Blethyn plays Elisabeth, who is also missing her daughter.  Despite their differences, a bond is created.  Directed by Rachid Bouchareb. (3B Productions )


Ed Rampell
Ed Rampell

Ed Rampell is an LA-based film historian and critic, author of "Progressive Hollywood: A People’s Film History of the United States," and co-author of "The Hawaii Movie and Television Book." He has written for Variety, Television Quarterly, Cineaste, New Times L.A., and other publications. Rampell lived in Tahiti, Samoa, Hawaii, and Micronesia, reporting on the nuclear-free and independent Pacific and Hawaiian Sovereignty movements.