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The Soft-Spoken Coming of Age Splendor of Jean Renoir’s ‘The River’

Technicolor growing pains, soft-spoken narration, and a commanding feminist point of view. Here’s a look at what makes Renoir’s first color feature so great.
The River Jean Renoir
United Artists
By  · Published on September 29th, 2021

Welcome to The Queue — your daily distraction of curated video content sourced from across the web. Today, we’re watching a video essay on the coming of age majesty of Jean Renoir’s The River.

Along the banks of the Ganges River, three young girls find themselves in the throes of adolescent love. Harriet (Patricia Walters) and her best friend, Valerie (Adrienne Corri), both fall hard for the charming visitor Captain John (Thomas E. Breen). Meanwhile, John only has eyes for Melanie (Radha), his mixed-race cousin, who refuses his advances.

Filled with the infatuated stupor of an endless summer, the 1951 film The River marks the first color feature of French auteur Jean Renoir. Martin Scorsese calls it one of the “two most beautiful color films ever made” (the other is The Red Shoes). Thematically melding the transitory emotional ebb and flow of adolescent longing with the everlasting rush of creation itself, The River is a monumental testament to Renoir’s talent.

The video essay below delves deeper into what makes The River a pinnacle of coming-of-age cinema. And it underlines the additional creative voices that make it so special. These include Indian filmmaker Satyajit Ray, who served as the film’s assistant director. Also, author Rumer Godden. Her active involvement in the screenplay made possible necessary, and radiant, additions — including the character of Melanie.

Watch The River | BFI Video Essay:

Who made this?

This video essay on Jean Renoir’s The River is written and presented by Hanna Flint and edited by Maha Albadrawi. It is hosted on the British Film Institute YouTube account. And it’s part of the BFI’s new Blu-ray release of Renoir’s film. You can subscribe to the BFI on YouTube here.

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Based in the Pacific North West, Meg enjoys long scrambles on cliff faces and cozying up with a good piece of 1960s eurotrash. As a senior contributor at FSR, Meg's objective is to spread the good word about the best of sleaze, genre, and practical effects.