I would not have known about this film had Niki van de Beek not mentioned it in her blog. It proved easy enough to find on YouTube, was free to watch, and was Sundance nominated for 2020. Having recently visited Luxor I was quickly caught up in the sheer beauty and mystery of the place that the movie captures perfectly. It feels as if you’re there, or at least in the midst of a tourist board travelogue.
Written and directed by Zeina Durra with Andrea Riseborough playing the central character. Hana is returning to Egypt to spend a short vacation at the Winter Palace in Luxor. She’s a doctor whose been working in war torn Syria which has wrought havoc on her emotional state. She travels light, arriving at the fabled Winter Palace hotel with only a large but half empty purse.
It doesn’t take a moment to become enchanted with Riseborough’s portrayal of the enigmatic Hana, but the story becomes quite a challenge to follow as it slowly wanders along. There is a completely out of character part of a one-night stand with a hotel guest who is besotted with her on her first evening at the bar of the hotel. She later needs the hotel manager’s help to avoid being seen by him in the hotel.
If you are listening for the dialogue there’s mostly an extraordinarily effective communication of what’s going on in Hana’s head with the camera’s capture of her expression. But there are curious moments too, as when Hana’s ex takes her to meet his boss none other than Salima Ikram. The Prof appears I guess, as the celebrity Egyptologist she is, while being Hana’s ex’s boss in the movie. In this cameo she first explains the purpose of faience shabtis to Hana followed later over lunch by an explanation of Freud’s interest in Egyptology. It’s during this over lunch chat that Hana without a word abruptly leaves the table to gaze out over the landscape. And who can blame her?
By this time I’ve taken to stalking Hana around Luxor, King’s Valley – there were very few people when I visited recently, but Hana hit the place when there were more guards than tourists. She visits Karnak at night with her ex who she has run into again – quite by chance. He is unsurprisingly mad keen on rekindling their romance but anyone would take the bet that he’s not going to get there. However, his efforts to lead to a funny scene with him and Hana in the hotel pool with him swimming in his underpants to the dismay of the hotel concierge.
Zeina Durra is a widely respected film maker, and Luxor is entirely due it’s critical success. Andrea Riseborough’s performance is also superlative. And of course, there is Luxor and Egypt beautifully captured by the director and cinematography. The films quirkiness has not settled well with audiences and I get that, but Luxor has a friend in me.