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Indian Film Festival: Jean Renoir’s The River


Jean Renoir's The River screens as part of the MoPA/SDMA Indian Film Series (Janus Films)

The Indian Film Series at the Museum of Photographic Arts continues on Wednesday May 21 at 7:00 pm with a screening of Jean Renoir's The River. For the past two weeks, the festival has highlighted Satyajit Ray's work with screenings of Two Daughters and Charulatta . This week you can see the film that helped launch the careers of both Ray and Subrata Mitra, who would go on to become Ray's cinematographer. Ray, a longtime lover of film, served as Renoir's assistant on The River and the experience seems to have confirmed filmmaking as his career path. Since I helped programmed the festival, I have been introducing the films, and I've been thrilled to find that many in the audience are discovering Ray for the first time. So in one respect, the festival has been a great success if it has introduced this great filmmaker to some new fans. Renoir is probably best known for such French classics as The Grand Illusion and Rules of the Game . But for his first color film, The River, Renoir shot entirely on location in India where the vibrant colors and striking festivals inspired a particularly vivid cinematic palette. The film is not screened as often as the films he made in France so I encourage you to come out and enjoy this one on the big screen.

I haven't seen the film in ages. So I am looking forward to seeing the film again and as an adult who can hopefully appreciate more of the artistry in the film. I remember my mother having a record of the music from the film, and I was fascinated not only by the sounds but by the cover depicting a beautiful Indian girl exotically dressed. The image, as well as a love for Indian music, has stayed with me ever since.

In the film, a girl makes an accusation against her family: "We just go on as if nothing has happened." "No," her mother says, "we just go on." Go on, essentially like the sacred Ganges river that flows nearby. Based on the novel by Rumer Godden, the film explores how the arrival of a stranger affects the lives of three young women. Renoir contrasts the fluidity of life and emotions with the steady flow of the Ganges. Renoir dazzles us with the beauty of the landscapes, the details of Indian festivals, and the subtleties of human emotion. It also reveals Renoir's love for the country and its people.

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