It’s July 2005, and a bus bombing in London has killed many people. In Guernsey, Elisabeth (Brenda Blethyn), whose daughter is studying in London becomes increasingly worried when she doesn’t return her calls. In France, Ousmane (Sotigui Kouyaté) has been asked by his estranged wife to make sure their son is ok. Ousmane, who has not seen his son since he was six years old travels to London to attempt to locate him. Elisabeth does the same. These are two parents who have lost a sense of who their children are, so this is a film of re-discovery.
Their independent searches begin, but eventually their paths cross. At first uneasy with all the Muslims in London, Elisabeth is suspicious of Ousmane when they first meet. Ousmane has seen the flyers that Elisabeth has tacked up around the neighbourhood where her daughters flat is. He realizes that a class photograph that he has been sent with his son, also contains the girl on the flyers. Ousmane calls Elisabeth, and they meet. Elisabeth just cannot fathom why her daughter would be studying Arabic, and hanging out, living with a Muslim. She even asks a teacher (an Arab) “who speaks Arabic anyway?” Did they both die in the bombing? Were they somehow involved? These questions are later answered. Along with the questions of cultural understanding and the realization for Elisabeth that parents are parents and children are children no matter the ethnicity, the race or religion. Ousmane seems to be more evolved than Elisabeth in these matters, although the question remains why he left his wife and child in Africa all those years ago.
Ousmane is a forester. His particular passion (although ‘passion’ is not a word that would be readily associated with him) is his quest to save the Elm tree from extinction. Stoical, more like. And he seems to stoically accept the futility of his quest. Ironically, Elisabeth lives on the isle of Guernsey, one of the last places on earth that the Elm is growing healthily.
London River comes from Algerian Director (and writer) Rachid Bouchareb, the man who gave us Indigènes (2006) and Hors la loi (2010)- two connected films about the Algerian struggle for independence from France. Both very good. And both very political. This one spins off into the personal. Not as good as those two, but a worthwhile and heart-felt effort.