Troy Patterson
February 28, 2005 AT 05:00 AM EST

In a crisp interview appended here, Martin Scorsese calls Jean Renoir’s gemlike coming-of-age tale one of ”the two most beautiful color films ever made” (the other being The Red Shoes). In fact, the movie initially seems too beautiful — too determined to butter us up with majestic views of India and its delicious sunlight. But as the narrator, Harriet, a teenage British girl growing up on the Ganges in the early 1900s, eases into her slim story, what starts out looking innocent and oversweet becomes an account of primal heartbreak. When Harriet — who is so plain and gawky that her own mother can only say she has ”an interesting little face” — tries to catch the eye of a dashing, war-wounded American, she discovers that her precocious friend is a far more skillful flirt — and that her crush has lost, along with one leg, a good part of his peace of mind. Renoir, director of classics The Rules of the Game and Grand Illusion, brings the elegance of those masterpieces to bear on a study of sorrow that’s all the more pungent for being exquisitely pretty. EXTRAS A genteel BBC profile of Rumer Godden, who wrote the novel inspiring the movie; the director’s charmingly antique ”introduction.”

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