MOVIE OF THE WEEK December 4, 2020: LUXOR
Centering on a powerful performance by Andrea Riseborough, Zeina Durra’s dreamy, introspective romantic drama Luxor explores what-ifs and second chances as its characters explore ancient Egyptian ruins, finding their way to a place of connection and understanding. Riseborough plays Hana, a British doctor who’s come to the city of Luxor to rest and recuperate from the stresses of her efforts as an international aid worker.
She crosses paths with former lover Sultan (Karim Selah), and their chemistry sparks anew — but will Hana be able to allow herself the comfort of his familiar affection?
Durra is unhurried in telling Hana’s story, her camera lingering on the streets of the Egyptian city, where ancient artifacts exist alongside streets full of speeding cars, and where meandering back alleys are waiting to be wandered down. We never find out exactly what Hana has experienced in her work, but it’s clearly traumatic, leaving her feeling isolated and vulnerable. She’s glad to see Sultan, but she’s also rattled by his appearance, and she finds it difficult to trust that they could reclaim happiness together.
Riseborough makes the most of Durra’s spare script; Hana is the kind of character we get to know through her facial expressions and soulful gazes, rather than long speeches. This isn’t a glamorous role, and Riseborough clearly relishes it, giving Hana the humanity needed to make a character feel genuine and relatable. The result is a closely observed drama that lingers like a Virginia Woolf novel, poignant and driven by internal, rather than external, action. — Betsy Bozdech
Team #MOTW’s comments:
Nikki Baughan: Andrea Riseborough gives a luminescent performance in Zeina Durra’s contemplative, hypnotic Luxor, her talent and poise radiating through the suppressed trauma that leaves her character, Hana, seemingly teetering on the edge of complete breakdown. A medic, Hana is in the Egyptian city of Luxor on a much-needed break between frontline work in Syria and a potential new posting in Yemen, desperately trying to drown out the horrors she has witnessed by immersing herself in the beauty of this spiritual, historical city. Read full review.
Susan Wloszczyna: London-born Arab writer-director Zeina Durra’s Luxor is sort of a meditative throwback to the ‘60s era of art-house cinema when movies were allowed to not always fill in the plot blanks for audiences. That opened the door for viewers to insert their assumptions as to what is going on with the main character. In this case that would be Hana (never-not-watchable Andrea Riseborough). Read full review.
Pam Grady: When 40-something Hana (Andrea Riseborough) checks into the Luxor, Egypt’s Winter Palace Hotel, an opulent relic from a long ago era, it seems like the start of a grand vacation. The trip shows even greater promise when she runs into ex-boyfriend Sultan (Karim Saleh) and that old flame lights anew. But nothing is that simple in writer/director Zeina Durra’s sophomore feature, a drama that unfolds elliptically through a journey that is as emotional for Hana as it is physical. It is no accident that she chose Luxor as a place to heal from the horrors she witnessed as an aid worker on the war-torn Syrian border. It is in the Egyptian city where she was with Sultan 20 years ago. It is also an ancient place, its long-buried history excavated by archeologists like Sultan. Now, in attempting to come to grips with her recent trauma, Hana excavates her own history – only to have the past become suddenly very present. Unfurling slowly and gorgeously shot in an old and beautiful city, Luxor is a deeply satisfying drama, made more so by Riseborough’s compelling performance and her and Saleh’s delicious chemistry.
Leslie Combemale Luxor benefits from the depth of star Andrea Riseborough’s commitment to character study, and her ability to inhabit Hana, a British doctor with PTSD. Hana largely skims through the emotions of her experiences, as she walks the spiritual and historical sites of the Egyptian city. She is a haunted wanderer, an onlooker attempting to stay distanced from meaningful interactions, but feeling so pulled to the ancient architecture their whispers surround her. The simple kindnesses from strangers and acquaintances, along with the patience from an ex-lover might lead to healing, but writer/director Zeina Durra doesn’t tie things in a tidy bow, which keeps the reality of the PTSD experience authentic. A beautiful, meditative film, Luxor will resonate especially with those who have had their own traumatic experience.
MaryAnn Johanson Zeina Durra’s second feature is a work of subdued melancholy that gives an unusually pensive space to a woman’s inner life. Andrea Riseborough immerses us in Hana’s pain without denying her a paradoxical privacy: we empathize with Hana even if we never quite understand us. An appealing paradox of a film.
Nell Minow: We lean a bit forward in Zeina Durra’s gentle mood piece, Luxor to be sure to get all of the subtleties of the story and characters. Andrea Riseborough conveys what her character is not able to say with a beautifully sensitive performance in the midst of timeless antiquities.
Jennifer Merin Luxor, British filmmaker Zeina Durra’s second feature, is a compelling character driven story centered around a woman who is in search of personal reconciliation. Andrea Riseborough stars as Hana, a British physician and aid worker who returns to the ancient Egyptian city of Luxor where she’d served years ago. She’s on a mission to rest and restore, as a retreat from the stresses of her job trying to make life better for the world’s most needy. In Luxor, she encounters a former lover and their romance rekindles while together they roam through ancient tombs and ruins, explore the city’s narrow cobbled streets and peruse the markets and bazaar. The film’s pacing is deliberately slow and its mood is meditative — perhaps even subversively mysterious. Riseborough’s performance as Hana has an incandescent internal life that is galvanizing. You’re completely engaged in trying to figure out what’s troubling her and just what she’s come to put to rest in Luxor.
Marina Antunes Hana seems to have her life in order but when she randomly encounters a former lover, Sultan, while on holidays in Luxor, her seemingly cohesive existence is thrown into a tailspin as she begins to wonder and question past decisions and where they have led her. Andrea Riseborough gives a lovely, subdued performance that slowly unravels as Hana falls further and further into a rhythm of relationship with Sultan. Luxor is a wonderful exploration of past loves, coming to terms with life-changing decisions, and the struggle of growing old alone.
Loren King Writer-director Zeina Durra’s visually stirring, exquisitely photographed Luxor may inspire viewers to book a flight to the 4,000-year-old Egyptian city with its ancient tombs, temples and sprawling archeological sites; where tourists faint in the shadows of ruins because of the intoxicating power of the past. The film lets us soak in this atmosphere without giving much backstory for why British doctor Hana (Andrea Riseborough) has landed in Luxor fresh from working at the Syrian-Jordanian border where she clearly experienced trauma that’s left her somewhat shell shocked. While sightseeing alone, she runs into former colleague and lover Sultan (Karim Saleh) and he becomes her guide and companion as the pair visit ruins and excavate their pasts, however obliquely. Perhaps Luxor was written for older characters, as Hana and Sultan’s reminisces about their idealistic 20s don’t seem distant enough for characters who appear barely 40. But both Saleh and, especially, Riseborough make it all work. Riseborough, so compelling onscreen whether in a psychological thriller like Nancy; a human drama like Battle of the Sexes; or a meditative, moody film like this one, conveys with grace and subtlety the range and complexity of Hana’s feelings — uncertainty, regret, confusion, hope. It’s a masterful performance in a quietly powerful film.
Sandie Angulo Chen: Andrea Riseborough is a brilliant actress, and she gives a memorable performance in Luxor as Hana, an international aid doctor on leave in Egypt. With her slender body clothed in utilitarian travel wear, Hana travels the ancient city, bumps into a former lover, and has emotional meltdowns that hint at the horrors she’s seen in the field. Written and directed by Zeina Durra, the film is a beautifully shot, atmospheric character study that will make audiences believe in the spiritual benefits of the titular city.
Liz Whittemore Luxor highlights deep regret and a lost sense of self. There is something grounded and accessible about the cinematography. It often feels like we’re in the room, not as a fly on the wall, but as another character an arm’s length away. The sparsity of dialogue and slow-burn momentum place you inside Hana’s mindset. She is a bit of us all, attempting to find where she fits after trauma and PTSD. She’s looking to both reconnect and be alone, The pandemic the lockdown has shown us all our greatest fears and if we’re lucky, helped us rediscover our passions. Hana, in ancient Egypt, is inspired by the past, physically and metaphorically. Andrea Riseborough’s performance bursts with sadness and pensive energy. It’s visceral and complex. Writer/director Zeina Durra has crafted a script fraught with tension, texture and nuance, leaving us with a film that is relatable and yet remains a mystery.
Cate Marquis In writer/director Zeina Durra’s graceful drama LUXOR, Andrea Riseborough gives an affecting performance as a woman doctor who returns to visit Luxor, Egypt while on leave from her work with an aid organization. At first, the film seems like a contemplative tour of the city’s ancient Egyptian sites, as Riseborough’s solitary, mysterious Hana moves among them. But the drama shifts to a more personal, emotionally complex one after she encounters an old flame, an archaeologist named Sultan (Karim Saleh), sparking cracks in her seemingly-serene facade and an intriguing reflection amid the ruins, on her past choices, recent traumatic experiences and present uncertain state.
Directors: Zeina Durra
Release Date: December 4, 2020
Running Time: 85 minutes
Language: English, some Arabic with English subtitles
Screenwriter: Zeina Durra
Distribution Company: Samuel Goldwyn
AWFJ Movie of the Week Panel Members: Sandie Angulo Chen, Marina Antunes, Nikki Baughan, Betsy Bozdech, Leslie Combemale, Pam Grady, MaryAnn Johanson, Loren King, Cate Marquis, Jennifer Merin, Nell Minow, Liz Whittemore, Susan Wloszczyna, Kathia Woods
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Edited by Jennifer Merin