Producers: Mohamed Hefzy, Gianluca Chakra, Mamdouh Saba and Zeina Durra Director: Zeina Durra Screenplay: Zeina Durra Cast: Andrea Riseborough, Karim Saleh, Michael Landes, Sherine Reda, Salima Ikram and Shahira Fahmy Distributor: Samuel Goldwyn Films
A British doctor traumatized by a stint on the Syrian-Jordanian border visits the ancient Egyptian city of Luxor in hopes of some psychological recovery in Zeina Durra’s contemplative drama that will either mesmerize you—or frustrate you with its elliptical style.
Hana (Andrea Riseborough) arrives at her Luxor hotel the Winter Palace, a charmingly old-fashioned place but for the metal detector at the front door, as, she admits, a “broken” person after her experiences with refugees from the Syrian civil war. She has come to Luxor to recuperate before deciding whether to go on to her next assignment, in the equally devastating environment of Yemen.
She is clearly seeking some emotional support, but fails to find it in a quick encounter with a loud American (Michael Landes) she meets in the hotel bar. We watch her aching as she walks about the city’s monuments or glimpsing them from the window of a taxi, and offering medical assistance to tourists who have come to the city seeking rebirth of their own. But it’s not until she encounters an old friend, an American archaeologist named Sultan (Karim Saleh), who becomes her companion, taking her to sites where he’s working and introducing her to colleagues who can help her achieve some spiritual solace–among them Salima Ikram, the Egyptologist who appears as herself.
Hana and Sultan obviously have a history, but it’s not explicitly spelled out, and while they are at ease with one another—and with the idea of being intimate—he does not act as some healing figure who can magically make things right for her. While their time together aids Hana in coming to terms with her emotional fragility, there are times when, even in his company, she simply collapses in anger and tears. “Luxor” is not a film that provides easy answers to the tough questions it raises about the devastating today’s brutal crises have on all those impacted by them.
Riseborough anchors the picture with a performance of remarkable nuance and subtlety, conveying Hana’s emotional swings without oversimplifying the complexity of the character. Saleh complements her work with an unforced, naturalistic turn that reflects Sultan’s desire to provide a stabilizing presence for his friend even as he recognizes the depths of her fragility.
The other major character in “Luxor” is the city itself as a place of ancient calm contrasted with modern chaos. Durra and her colleagues—cinematographer Zelmira Gainza, production designer Mohamed Fakhry, editor Andrea Chignoli and composer Nascuy Linares—convey a sense of its beauty and mystery without glamorizing it; the visuals avoid glossiness, the sounds remain realistic, and the pacing has a lapidary, almost timeless feel.
“Luxor” is a film of rare maturity about emotional trauma and the struggle to regain balance in life, but one so rarefied in approach that some will find it remote and even parched. If you remain open to its unhurried, oblique manner, however, you may find it deeply moving. In any event, it’s impossible not to be affected by the turmoil in the character Riseborough so artfully draws.