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Cinema According to Víctor Erice

Wednesday, July 15, 2015
7:30 p.m. The River
Jean Renoir (France, 1950)

“A movie set in India must have certain essential elements: tigers, Bengal lancers, and elephants,” recalled Jean Renoir about the advice of film financiers. “In The River, there are no tigers, Bengal lancers, or elephants.” Disillusioned after a spell in Hollywood, Renoir journeyed to India (and allied himself with Satyajit Ray) for this lyrical adaptation of author Rumer Godden’s coming-of-age tale set alongside the River Ganges. Into a bucolic expat community of schoolgirls and widowers arrives a wounded American war veteran, his presence awakening a host of desires. “That’s funny; I often hate men,” coos one teenaged temptress, who quickly takes up smoking. “Mother, am I beautiful?” asks another. “You have . . . an interesting face,” Mumsy replies. Renoir subtly contrasts the momentary experiences of first love and other tragedies against the river’s (and India’s) eternal beauty, expertly captured by Claude Renoir in eye-popping Technicolor. Droll, painterly, and wise, The River offers a lesson in purity of cinema, and life. "We go on as if nothing has happened,” a daughter complains after a tragedy. “No we don’t," replies a mother. "We just go on.” For Víctor Erice, it is "an extraordinary example of how the cinema becomes a means of knowledge, an open window onto the world."

—Jason Sanders

• Written by Renoir, Rumer Godden, from the novel by Godden. Photographed by Claude Renoir. With Patricia Walters, Radha, Adrienne Corri, Nora Swinburne. (99 mins, Color, 35mm, BAM/PFA Collection, permission Janus/Criterion Collection)