The River Jean Renoir

Jean Renoir could get pretty fatuous in his later career, but he strikes the right balance between gravity and lightness in this, his first film in colour and English. The India-set film follows three young women variously involved with the same man: two are daughters of the same English parents and the other is a half-Indian outsider just back from convent school. But though the object of their affection, an American ex-serviceman who lost a leg in the war, is a complicated man who flees from people's pity, they will have bigger problems when the sisters' little brother lets his curiosity go too far. Renoir doesn't so much tell the story as let it sprawl across the English girls' household; he's not interested in the narrow arc of individual trajectories but in how those arcs cross each other and become painfully entangled. His camera is open wide to the world instead of closing it off, and if he's not quite as sensitive to the Indian realities around his protagonists as advertised, he's no imperialist and is far more respectful than a few westerners I could name. It doesn't quite live up to its reputation, but it's still a warm and generous film that defies criticism. The typically stacked Criterion edition includes an introduction by Renoir, who explains the fascinating origins of the project and comes off like a more benevolent Alfred Hitchcock. There's also a terrific video interview with Martin Scorsese, who describes his very personal responses to the film, audio excerpts of hilariously crotchety producer Ken McEldowney, a gripping hour-long documentary on the troubled life of source novelist Rumer Godden, a gallery of stills and promotional materials, the trailer and a booklet with essays by scholars Ian Christie and Alexander Sesonkse. Well worth seeking out. (Criterion/Morningstar)
(Hive Fidelity)