Saturday, January 25, 2020

Sundance with Abe: Luxor

I’m thrilled to be attending and covering the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah for the seventh time. I’m seeing as many movies as I can each day and will post reviews of each as I can, as well as video reviews uploaded to YouTube.

Directed by Zeina Durra
World Cinema Dramatic Competition

Spending time in a war zone can have traumatizing effects on anyone. It doesn’t necessarily matter if you’re on the front lines or there in a capacity that doesn’t always put you in immediate physical danger. Decompressing in a place that feels distinctly different can be crucial to a person’s wellbeing and emotional recovery, though memories of what they experienced won’t be erased by a simple change of scenery. Eventually, those affected will have to confront what they have endured and how it has changed them.

Hana (Andrea Riseborough), a British aid worker, has finished working at a clinic on the Jordanian-Syrian border. She returns to the familiar comfort of Luxor, Egypt, an ancient city where she lived years earlier. As she wonders at the architecture and the beauty of the place, she encounters Sultan (Karim Salem), an archeologist she used to date. A relaxing trip back to the past becomes more than just that as old memories come back and Hana must choose which decisions to make for her present, as well as when her time off needs to end and a return to reality might be in order.

The premise of someone like Hana yearning for a nostalgic past after living so close to death makes a lot of sense. From there, however, this film isn’t really sure where to go. The plot is thin and slow, and it’s mostly an opportunity to see Hana as she leans in to listen closely to the hieroglyphics on the walls, hearing murmuring voices of generations and civilizations long gone. The meaning of that is never explicitly addressed, and Hana doesn’t discuss much about what she went through during her most recent job. Her encounters with Sultan and with other travelers and locals are mildly interesting, but this film is much like one of Sultan’s archeological digs: long and tedious, with only the occasional worthwhile find.

Riseborough returns to Sundance with this film and “Possessor” after starring in an impressive four projects at the festival two years ago: “Burden,” “Mandy,” “Nancy,” and “The Death of Stalin.” She’s at her least energetic here, which doesn’t serve to enliven the pace of the film. This film feels like a moderately more optimistic version of “War Story,” a lackluster past Sundance entry. There could be something interesting and thought-provoking to be found within this story, but it must be buried deep within this forgettable film.


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