||Nada Ahmed El-Dardir
|Andrea Riseborough||Karim Saleh||Michael Landes|
|Shereen Reda||Salima Ikram||Shahira Fahmy|
|Ahmed Tallaat||Janie Aziz||Indigo Rønlov|
|Trude Reed||Nada Ahmed El-Dardir||Buffy Davis|
|Andrea Riseborough||Karim Saleh|
|Michael Landes||Shereen Reda|
|Salima Ikram||Shahira Fahmy|
|Ahmed Tallaat||Janie Aziz|
|Indigo Rønlov||Trude Reed|
|Nada Ahmed El-Dardir||Buffy Davis|
Having made her debut with the wonderfully titled The Imperialists Are Still Alive! a decade ago, it has taken ten years for writer / director Zeina Durra to make a second feature, bearing the rather calmer title Luxor, the Egyptian city which is one of the oldest inhabited cities in the world, which some scholars saying it was established as long ago as 2000 BC, and frequently described as ‘the world's greatest open-air museum’.
In this slow and reflective drama Hana (Andrea Riseborough - Oblivion / Possessor) retreats to the city, in particular The Winter Palace hotel, a genuine place, returning as if for reassurance and solace after a spell working for an NGO in Syria, taking a much-needed break before being posted to another Middle Eastern war zone, the civil war in Yemen between the Hadi-led Yemeni government and the Houthi armed resistance, a prospect which is obviously dreading.
Meeting an ex-lover, Sultan (French actor Karim Saleh - Munich / TV’s Transparent), an archaeologist working at an excavation near the city, the two revive their friendship but Hana is clearly more trepidatious than Sultan, and he keeps referring to the trip they took to the similarly ancient city of Abydos, and which for some reason Hana feels uncomfortable. Although Sultan is a major part of the film the story really is that of Hana, returning to Luxor, which essentially lives in the past, to avoid the future, Durra’s screenplay revolving around choices not made and the journeys not taken, and one soon realises that, regardless of the location and the presence of Sultan, Hana is re-evaluating everything in her life, and is at a mental and emotional crossroads.
The filmmaker has mentioned both Nic Roeg’s Don't Look Now (1973) and Michelangelo Antonioni’s The Passenger (’75) as influences and one can very much see why, the idea of the city becoming almost a character in itself, as did Venice in Roeg’s masterpiece, and the feeling of alienation in a foreign country and the adoption of, even briefly, another persona or identity when away from wherever is considered home, as does Locke, the Jack Nicholson character in The Passenger, if only to protect the damaged self.
Although running just eighty-five minutes and being largely, after the arrival of Sultan, a two-person narrative, the film is certainly more interested in atmosphere and character building than incident, with the location looking so alluring that you’ll be looking up the Winter Palace online as soon as the credits begin, and incidentally where Agatha Christie wrote the novel Death On The Nile in 1936, itself the subject of a 2020 film remake, and Luxor itself is presented as a real, living city, not as some sort of still-standing tourist attraction.
As expected the critics focused on Riseborough’s magnetic central performance, Sight & Sound finding she was ‘ … something of a thrill to watch as the film’s central case-study cum protagonist’ and of the film ‘An apparently slight, but deeply rewarding film, Luxor reveals its purpose slowly, in fragments of growing significance’.and Cineuropa believing the film ‘ …centres on an evocative performance by the impressive Andrea Riseborough’, and ‘The director seems fully aware that the strength of Luxor comes from the ambiguity and trying to work Hana out, just as she is trying to work things out for herself. There are little signs of her former, fun self, such as a display of her flexibility in a bar and re-enacting old conversations with Sultan in a retro hotel telephone booth’.Culturefix surmised ‘Whilst it does not provide all the answers, the meditative style of Luxor and a quietly engaging performance from Riseborough creates quite an intriguing world that draws us in in an unforced, calm manner’, and Variety noting ‘“I’m broken. I can’t take any more pain,” she tells [Sultan] in understated lines movingly spoken by Riseborough, who cannily knows how to convey suppressed emotions through glances, body language and minimalist line delivery. The film plays with the headiness of the ancient past, so vivid in Luxor and environs, using it as a counterbalance to the oppressiveness of Hana’s barely spoken trauma. What’s ancient offers succor, a recognition of something greater than ourselves, something mystical’.
That Riseborough could follow such a contemplative film such as this with Brandon Cronenberg’s onslaught Possessor, and give superb and very different performances in each, is a testament to this actresses’ immense talent.
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