The film “London River” isn’t getting lots of press. It’s not a blockbuster. Its subject isn’t cheery. And it doesn’t star actors with celebrity status (on this side of the pond). It moves at a slow, deliberate pace — and feels at times like a two-person play. Its main characters are parents whose young adult children are missing after a terrorist attack in London.
The film opens with a middle-aged woman who looks like most of us. She’s overweight, pulls shoulder length hair off her face with a pony tail and sits alone at her kitchen table watching television news reports of the bombing. Her daughter lives in London, so she calls without much concern, just to make sure all is well.
We see her the next day taking clothes off a washline, tending to rows of lush lettuce and feeding animals on her small farm. And we see her make more calls. Each time she gets a voice mail, and the messages she leaves mirror the increasing panic on her face.
She decides to ferry over to London, leaving her brother in charge of animals and plants. She takes along the address to her daughter’s apartment, puzzled when she discovers it’s in a neighborhood filled with signs written in Arabic and men with dark skin. Her daughter isn’t there, and soon she spots a wall dotted with “missing” posters.
So does a father who’s traveled to London from Paris to find the son he hasn’t seen in more than a decade. Seems he left the family when the boy was just six years old, but promised his son’s mother he’d go to London and find him — then get him back to her in Africa.
A photograph taken at a local mosque brings the two parents together. Both of their children are in it, and the mother grows concerned. She’s frightened by Muslims, including the father who ultimately shares her search among the missing. Visiting the same hospitals and morgues has a way of bringing people together.
They discover in time that they have many things in common, including a love of the earth. Seated on a park bench, she notices cuts on the father’s hands. The father explains that he’s a forest worker, saddened that his attempts to save diseased elms have failed. Our lives, she tells him, really aren’t that different at all.
The film is a tender look at a trio of terrifying topics — terrorism, bigotry and letting go. The story feels authentic. The acting is superb. And the director never plays the “message” card. We feel what parents Elizabeth (Brenda Blethyn) and Ousmane (Sotigui Kouyate) are feeling.
“London River” premiered at a 2009 film festival in Berlin, but opened just last month in New York. It’s directed by Rachid Bouchareb, who co-wrote the screenplay with Zoé Galeron and Olivier Lorelle. It features music composed by Armand Amar.
Terrorism triumphs when we let differences divide us. When we judge people en masse instead of getting to know them one on one. Let’s hope our own children, like those at the heart of this film, inspire us to embrace our common humanity.
Note: “London River” is playing at Harkins Theatre Shea 14
Coming up: A little stroll through history