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American Women's Club of Hamburg

Film review: London River

Rachid Bouchareb / Algeria, France, Great Britain

Who would have thought that the tall and dignified African gentleman had started his career as a soccer champion, playing National League for Burkina Faso? Sotigui Kouyaté was born in 1936 in Bamako (Mali) and belongs to an illustrious family of “griots” – master of words – of which he gave a sample during the press conference of his latest film London River. When telling not one but three African stories in his deep, soft voice he mesmerized journalists and camera men alike. He is not only an actor, composer, dancer and family man but also master of ceremonies, singer and musician. Sotigui Kouyaté has appeared in some 60 films (Dirty Pretty Things, Little Senegal) and received the Silver Bear 2009 - Best Actor - for the lead in London River, a highlight in his career.

With this film Rachid Bouchareb, the French-Algerian director (Oscar nomination for The Dust of Life), tells the story of a Muslim father (Sotigui Kouyaté) and a Christian mother (Brenda Blethyn) frantically searching for their missing children in the aftermath of London’s bombing in July 2005.

Brenda Blethyn (Atonement, Pride and Prejudice), who was twice nominated for an Oscar, plays a very English widow coming from the Island of Guernsey to look for her daughter Jane and finding the tiny flat in a multi-cultural area of London empty. She is frightened and realises how prejudiced she is, telling her brother on the phone, “This place is absolutely crawling with Muslims.” At the same time a Muslim man is travelling from Paris desperately looking for his son. Where do they begin looking and who do they turn to for help?

By chance their paths cross. It turns out their children were lovers and both were learning Arabic at the local mosque. Have they become victims or are they involved in the terror attack? Both parents are very suspicious of each other; they are faced with the barrier of language and their different cultures and religions. Despite their reluctance they are forced to trust and help each other.

Bouchareb did not want to make a film about terrorism but to show the effect it has on all of us, on ordinary people searching for loved ones. He said, “Among the missing or dozens of dead you will find a Muslim, a Christian, maybe a Buddhist and people of all kinds of nationalities.”

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