Where were you the day of the July 7, 2005 London bombings?
Like Brenda Blethyn (Elisabeth) in London River, I was at home and turned on BBC Radio 4 to hear what I first thought was a trailer to the afternoon play.
But it was a very ‘long’ trailer which did not end in time for Woman’s Hour and it dawned on me slowly that I was hearing the first reports of the carnage caused by the four terrorist bombs in central London.
After the initial shock, I got on the phone: My brother, then a North London resident was safe, as were my warm acquaintances at the Movement for Reform Judaism and the younger son of my close friend who works in Bloomsbury.
But there were no happy endings for the families and friends of the 52 people who were killed and the countless others who were maimed, traumatised or otherwise had their lives ruined in the outrage.
Indeed, three Jewish women were among those murdered. One of them, Susan Levy was the first victim to be identified formally and another, an Israeli expat charity administrator named Anat Rosenberg had feared returning home because of suicide bombings on buses there. She was later buried in Israel by her parents.
The wicked irony has now become personal because I saw London River last night at the cultural centre in Karmiel, Northern Israel where I was one of only two British expats in the studio.
I now live in a flat with a ‘safe room’ strengthened to withhold bomb and rocket attacks and one long-term resident has told me how the stress of living through the 2006 Lebanon War caused her mother’s death.
London River is an odd, almost ambivalent yet strangely affecting film, attempting to portray the multi-cultural ‘river’ of humanity which flows constantly through England’s capital city while illustrating how common grief may conjoin people who would otherwise never meet, let alone find some sort of affection in their mutual sadness.
A low-budget effort, shot with a hand-held camera, the movie has such a quiet documentary air to it that the Algerian director, director Rachid Bouchareb may as well have produced it in monochrome.
The attacks and the search for the perpetrators become almost incidental as we focus on the families of those presumed to be among the victims, seeing them trudge from police station, then hospital to mortuary in the mostly vain hope that they will find them.
Convention does not allow me to reveal the denouement. But I suggest that the terrorists’ final blow came after production. Sotigui Kouyate (Ousmane), who won the best actor award at last year’s Berlin Film Festival for his role as the migrant African worker seeking his son, died in April only a couple of months before the film’s release.