(Originally published on Overtime Online, 10th November 2020.)
Director Zeina Durra described Luxor as a vehicle through which its audience could “armchair travel”, which seems especially poignant when considering the context of this film’s release.
Durra’s film follows an astonishing journey through the city of Luxor, a place which appears so vibrant, so free – so enveloping, that it would take a tremendous amount of resolve to resist its cosmopolitan charm.
It is a loss to be without a cinema screen while you take in the very deliberately shot immersive environments in the city after which the film is named; it is evident that Luxor had been designed with scale in mind, in part to give a sense of the power that place holds over person.
But the beauty of this story comes not only through sublime images of a city “pregnant” with history – teeming with those bastions of cultural, historical and artistic human achievement.
At its heart, Luxor is about healing; the long process involved in mending a psyche that has been so tortured by trauma and violence that the individual has forgotten how to live.
Hana (Andrea Riseborough) is a British surgeon returning from a stint of aid work near the border between Syria and Jordan. Her trajectory around the city of Luxor is the film’s guiding force, and her travels begin with a slow dragging of the feet across dry earth.
It is made plain from the onset that Hana is struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder, and is having difficulty connecting herself to the present despite her environments.
At first unable to sleep, and reticent to let herself become vulnerable to emotion, Hana’s internalised distress has the effect of keeping her mostly arcane as the film’s central subject.
It is really the coincidental meeting she has with her impossibly charismatic past lover, Sultan (Karim Saleh) which causes Hana to unravel as she begins to show her innermost self, which still remains but has been damaged during the years of tension she has endured through her work in conflict.
As Hana and Sultan reconnect, the audience comes to understand that the lovers and the city of Luxor have been entwined for decades; their recollections of memories shared across different eras promote so much warmth between the pair that it is difficult not to feel it in the room.
The textures, the colours and the visible climate of the locations are enhanced by the presence of two people who are connected in a most exceptional way – a love performed beautifully by Riseborough and Saleh through subtle intonation and pensiveness.
Accepting help and care is difficult for Hana, but her instinctive trust in Sultan is what really sets her on a path to recovery. The first time she sleeps the night through, it is clear that what she has been craving is company, and comfort.
Somewhere to inhabit in relative safety. This is surely something which, regardless of the relative gravity of our own personal situations, we can all appreciate in times like the present.
An astonishing film about the ability of individuals to repair their lives after experiencing great hardship, set against a profoundly dazzling landscape.
Luxor is available to stream instantly via Eventive until 12 November as part of the AMPLIFY! film festival.
- AMPLIFY! is an online film festival running November 6-22, with digital programming curated by four of the UK’s biggest film festivals: CINECITY (Brighton), Cambridge and Cornwall Film Festivals, and FilmBath.