Over the course of his illustrious career, Martin Scorsese has expressed his admiration for the pioneers of the cinematic art-form on multiple occasions. While he was moved by the works of American masters such as Elia Kazan, John Ford and Stanley Kubrick, Scorsese also harboured a deep interest in foreign filmmakers such as Jean Renoir.
In fact, one of the cinematic masterpieces that left a deep impact on Scorsese was Renoir’s 1951 gem The River. An adaptation of a novel by Rumer Godden, Renoir shaped his investigations in the form of a girl’s coming-of-age story who lives near the banks of the Ganges in India where her father operates a jute mill.
Scorsese referred to The River as one of the most beautiful colour films of all time and there’s some substance to the claim. Renoir paints a fascinating portrait of the country’s landscape with the river serving as a contextualising force in the background. During the production process, India’s own pioneer Satyajit Ray assisted Renoir.
According to Scorsese, this specific Renoir film moved him so much because it was made in the post-war period when there was widespread destruction and the collective human psyche was completely shattered. At a time like that, it took courage to look beyond the omnipresent destitution to a larger vision of human existence because it was extremely difficult.
While listing the films that managed to do that, Scorsese named The River and compared it to the likes of: “Rossellini’s The Flowers of St. Francis and Europa ’51, the great neorealist films by Visconti and De Sica, Mizoguchi’s Ugetsu and Sansho the Bailiff, Kurosawa’s Ikiru and Seven Samurai, Wyler’s The Best Years of Our Lives, Ford’s My Darling Clementine and Wagon Master.”
Adding, “This was Jean Renoir’s first picture after his American period, his first in colour, and he used Rumer Godden’s autobiographical novel to create a film that is, really, about life, a film without a real story that is all about the rhythm of existence, the cycles of birth and death and regeneration, and the transitory beauty of the world.”