A film much admired by Wes Craven who was so enamoured that he went on to make his own film set in India "The Darjeeling Limited", a film that I incidentally enjoyed very much. Craven was apparently shown a print of the film by Martin Scorcese, a walking wikipedia on film lore. The film also kick started the career of Satyajit Ray, who assisted on the film, and also Ray's celebrated cinematographer Subrata Mitra who met up during the filming. They went on to collaborate on the monumental Apu trilogy, without doubt India's greatest contribution to world cinema. Sorry Bollywood! Also directed by Jean Renoir, and I am going through a bit of a Renoir appreciation period at present, the film was a must watch. I was not disappointed! This is a real cinema connoisseurs purchase. Beautifully restored by the BFI with a fascinating second disc full of decent extras it proved to be an excellent purchase.
Typical of Renoir, the films story is rather inconsequential to the film itself. It is simply a canvas for him to splash gorgeous colours across and bask in the sights and sounds of India. It captures a moment in time, all the while being conscious that the celestial clock is ever ticking. The vast meandering river of the story simply conveys the inexorable passage of time. Shot in a documentary style the film follows the lives and loves of the family of a British jute mill owner on the banks of the Ganges river in Bengal India. The ills of colonialism is really not an issue with this film, it is simply an impartial snap shot of a moment in time, captured by Renoir's artists eye. Ray himself was to provide a greater Bengali flavour with his own films. Renoir's work was clearly influenced by his artist father Pierre-Auguste, and the vivid colours of the sub continent would have held great appeal. It is no surprise then that the film is infused with colour at every opportunity. There are wonderful shots of majestic trees in glorious bloom, and all the bright colours of the bustling markets. Renoir also throws in a stunning dance routine which is quite beautifully choreographed. His eye for beauty is uncanny, and this sequence is worth buying the film for on its own. Unusually and quite brilliantly Renoir avoids using western music, instead using the wonderful Indian sounds of M A Partha Sarathy to great effect.
The film was made on location in India using a number of lesser known actors. It was based on a book by Rumer Godden, who also wrote the screenplay, and whose own childhood was spent in India. Perhaps best known of the cast were Nora Swinburne and Arthur Shields, an old John Ford 'oirish' favourite, and a veteran of the Easter Rising. The film has a lovely languid feel to it with a memorable sequence showing the different characters in a drowsy hot afternoons siesta. There is also a nice sequence showing the myriad steps leading down into the sacred river, some so old they are crumbling into the river as times eroding effect takes grip. The BFI have restored those beautiful colours in a way that I am sure Renoir himself, and perhaps even his father would have approved of. This is a beautiful piece of restoration work. The second disc contains an interesting short documentary about the film. There are also several short films from the BFI about India, which include one made as far back as 1899. There is also one about the Jute industry in Bengal which is certainly relevant to the film. All in all a lovely little purchase. True lovers of good cinema should enjoy this one in their collection.