Cities push strangers together, at times tragically, as in the London bombings of July 7, 2005. As hundreds went missing in the confusion of the aftermath, family and friends posted flyers all over the city with pictures of the loved ones they sought. London River moves surely toward that heartbreaking moment, but it begins on the peaceful isle of Guernsey.
Brenda Blethyn plays Mrs. Sommers, a farming woman with a simple rural routine. When her regular calls to her city-dwelling daughter go unanswered, she crosses the English Channel into the throng of north London. At first, news of the terror attacks are mere background noise to her, but as she continues to search fruitlessly for her daughter, and the unfamiliarity of her daughters polyglot, predominately Muslim neighbourhood begins to unsettle her, fear sets in.
At the same time, Ousmane (Sotigui Kouyate) has travelled from rural France to London to search for his son, also missing since the attacks. An African farm worker, he is equally at sea in the city. Ousmane and Elisabeth meet by chance, but it soon dawns on them that his son and her daughter were roommates, and maybe more.
Rachid Bouchareb, whose last film was the Second World War epic Indigenes, directs this more intimate story with frank tenderness. The film gathers great emotion as these two parents search for their missing children in a traumatized city, but it does so without a hint of false sentiment. Boucharebs camera is especially attentive to how worry and loss play on the faces of his actors, with Blethyn giving her best performance since Mike Secrets and Lies and the great Malian actor Kouyate contrasting her quivering concern with grave calm.
Even as Bouchareb shows two strangers responding to the horror that brought them together, his portrait of London offers surprising hope. This is a city where the everyday collisions of cultures produce not only conflict but possibility.