On 9/11, 2001, my former wife of 16 years was in Manhattan and I hadn’t even known of the Twin Towers’ doom until my third wife phoned in terrified concern for Anne’s welfare.
“Turn on the television set!!”
On it went!
Just in time to see the second plane hurtle itself into the South Tower.
“Oh, my God!!”
We immediately phoned and discovered that Anne was working in a hospital in midtown Manhattan, over 60 blocks north of the nightmare.
Yet death was ripping through my safe little morning in Vancouver, B.C.
Quite suddenly a New Yorker’s body would fall out of the window of an upper floor to escape the flames and to embrace a certain death on the pavement below.
Meanwhile, over Pennsylvania, United Airlines Flight 93 was being hijacked.
Months after 9/11, I had seen the profoundly disturbing TV film Flight 93 and had lived through that entire morning’s increasing insanity… the plane’s pitiless fall to the earth.
With Todd Beamer’s “Let’s roll!,” something all of us had heard about by the time of Flight 93’s release, I, like many watching that drama, knowing the final outcome, exploded in tears.
I hadn’t ever been quite so suddenly or intensely shaken by a TV broadcast before… until my recent experience with the film London River.
Much like Flight 93, London River lives in the hearts, minds and painful needs of lonely souls in the wake of the London bombings of July 7, 2005.
No, the two principal characters, performed flawlessly by Brenda Blethyn and Sotigui Kouyaté, are in no imminent danger themselves. They encounter one another as strangers, in a dance of death so fated and fatal to their deepest prayers and wishes that I couldn’t help weeping throughout the film.
Oh, there’s a moment of false hope in the mistaken assumption that their two respective children, a daughter and a son, had fallen in love and eloped to France together, escaping the fatal bus bombing… but no… their remains are identified by dint of DNA.
There was nothing but the scatterings of bombed human flesh to be found.
The truest and most unrelenting drama of the film, however, rests in the vast cultural, geographic and – yes – metaphysical distances that exist between the two parents.
They seem like two orphaned planets, the orbits of which have suddenly crossed.
They’ve both been introduced to one another by Death.
They are set in a fearful and most unwanted search together.
Led into each other’s reluctant arms by the obligatory laws of tragedy.
Their wanderings become a kind of pas de deux against their own will.
The man, a tall and rugged Muslim elder of Africa and the woman, a portly Protestant of middle-class good intentions but transparently restrained hysteria, have no source of comfort but one another.
Though Sotigui Kouyaté’s nobility has the grainy depth of a Michelangelo in ebony and his silences are as rich as the simplicity of his words, the film is driven by Brenda Blethyn’s soaring urgency to find her daughter.
Her performance commands us, we in the audience, to know everything now!
The Truth this instant!!
The energy beneath such need drives all our feelings. Calling up an unrestrained empathy I’ve rarely felt in any performance, filmed or otherwise.
I’m infuriated by Kaleem Aftab’s review for The Independent, calling London River a “dull and predictable film that avoided any meaningful discussion about the effect of the terrorist attack around which the story was shaped.”
There is nothing but “the effect of the terrorist attack” in London River!
For Kaleem, however, there was in this drama no defense for the 7/7 London bombers as there was, to a certain extent, in the TV film Flight 93 for the hijacking, equally suicidal terrorists.
Kaleem wants “context.”
Kaleem wants motivational background for the Islamic protestors.
Kaleem wants the audience to know some of the reasoning behind what most Westerners feel is cold-blooded murder.
Kaleem is looking at the bigger picture, right?
I can vividly recall The New York Times critic, who reviewed Flight 93, expressed gratitude for that film’s portrayal of the Kamikaze, Islamic hijackers. Thank God I can’t remember that critic’s name. That way I don’t even have to forgive such a Progressive “enlightened despot” for his homicidal compassion. That critic’s empathy for the killers?
We must somehow understand that they just had to do what they had to do, right?
Unfortunately, I can remember the name of Variety’s Jay Weissberg. He wrote that the film “trumpets political correctness far more loudly than this intimate drama can stand. Though the ending proves effective, director Rachid Bouchareb and his co-scripters employ simplistic stereotypes and obvious counterpoints that shouldn’t need to be spelled out so literally.”
Jay Weissberg, in his review of the film, “trumpets” academically correct insolence and contempt for human feeling far more loudly than his own patronizing indifference to the size of such human suffering. Whether indeed in London or New York.
I have never experienced, minute by minute, a more quietly yet unrelentingly upsetting film than London River.
Oh, the title London River refers not only to the legendary Thames. London River holds the streams of blood and mangled flesh, agony and divine compassion evoked by this portrait of a July 7, 2005 in England.
The most disturbing aftertaste of the film, something the aforementioned enemy of sentiment seems to have overlooked, arises from the language classes the two young but doomed lovers shared: Arabic.
To what extent were these victims of the bombing sympathetic to the very cause that murdered them?
If that is not post-modern-enough dialectical material for a Progressive critic… well… I pray such an enlightened despot freezes in the ice of his own progressively cold and inevitably Marxist objectivity.