: London River

London River

Bill Swannie

London RiverDirected by Rachid Bouchareb;
written by Rachid Bouchareb and Olivier Lorelle;
starring Brenda Blethyn and Sotigui Kouyate;
2009; 87 mins; available on DVD.

In the aftermath of the 2005 London bombings, Elizabeth Sommers leaves her remote farm to travel to London to look for her daughter Jane, who can’t be contacted by phone. Eventually she finds her daughter’s flat, above a halal butcher shop in London’s predominantly Muslim West End. Although Jane’s Muslim landlord offers her the keys to the flat, Elizabeth couldn’t be more distrusting or suspicious. Aren’t these the people who just detonated bombs on three peak hour trains and a bus?

Elizabeth positively bristles when contacted by an African man, Ousmane, who is also in London looking for his son Ali. Ousmane has seen the ‘missing’ notice and picture of Jane which Elizabeth has posted at the local railway station. Ousmane shows her a picture of his son and her daughter which was, he says, taken at the local mosque. She refuses to believe him and calls the police, who are also suspicious of the old man’s motives.

There is a danger in making a film about an event as significant as the London bombings — even six years later, racial and religious tensions remain. London River illustrates these issues through the relationship between Elizabeth and Ousmane. Despite their differences, they discover that their lives are inextricably interwoven, and that by working together they can assist each other. They also discover what they have in common, such as how little they know about their adult children.

Together Elizabeth and Ousmane continue the desperate search for their loved ones, checking the lists of names at hospital casualty wards and viewing unidentified remains at a mortuary. Many victims, they are informed, will only be identified by DNA, so complete was their obliteration.

Eventually Elizabeth comes to trust and respect Ousmane. He confides in her his fear that his son was one of the radicals who detonated the bombs. Their farewell embrace is both moving and comical — her head barely reaches the old man’s chest. Subtle moments like this make London River powerful and important.

BILL SWANNIE is senior lawyer at the Tenants Union of Victoria.

(2011) 36(4) AltLJ 292
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