Monday, February 2, 2009
The Visitor. Feature film. (2007, 104 mins) IMDB
ne problem I have with this film is the poster. It isn't inviting. It doesn't suggest what the movie is about until after you've seen it and obviously that's not what a movie poster should do. Based on the title and poster, I thought it was some small documentary about an American visiting West Africa or some other area of the world, but that's not it. It's not even a documentary, but a feature film based on a screenplay written by Thomas McCarthy.
That a character actor, Richard Jenkins, a face people know but couldn't put a name to, is the lead in the film is another indication that THE VISTOR is not just another film. Not a Hollywood film.
Vale appears to be a successful professor, but that's about it and maybe that's what is wrong with his life. Too focused. I should point out he's in his fifties or so. Past middle age.
So much happens without dialogue in the first ten minutes of the film that at times it's painful. Yes, we're looking for clues, but sometimes they are so hidden it's impossible to decipher. Besides, nothing is happening except voyeur moments in this man's life. But it doesn't stay that way. For reasons that don't matter, he's asked to attend a conference and he leaves. We see the car on this highway and that highway, makes it into a city, and step by agonizing step we see all these details of him arriving at a building in a large city. Excuse me if I rant, but what city and why all the detail and what is he doing? Do we really need to see him park his car, walk the street, enter a building, walk up the steps and so on and so on. Meanwhile, it's not clear at this stage he's going to his apartment in NYC. Why didn't they tell us this in some way? It's a rather crucial part of the story. After all, we've seen him living by himself in a nice house somewhere, not many people have two residences. Furthermore, he was on his way to a conference where we'd expect him to check into a resort or hotel. This section of the film is my biggest beef with the film. It's a boring and mumbled section.
But once he arrives at "his" apartment in NYC, he opens the door to his bathroom and finds a black women in the tube soaking. Next the boyfriend comes to protect her. There's a brief moment of male bravado and shouting, but everything is cool. For reasons that certainly don't matter, Tarek and his girlfriend Zainab have been living in his apartment. Now he wants them out and they leave except they have no where to go and he invites them to stay.
It's at this point the story settles in and we're into it. We learn more about each of these characters.
The professor is in a deep malaise because his wife died and his career means nothing to him. He's searching for some meaning in his life. It's the reason he started playing the piano. He takes to this couple and the drum. Tarek lets him play and teaches him. Vale is transforming before our eyes. Sort of.
Tarek is a drummer. He's from Syria. And as we learn further, an illegal immigrant with a deportation order shadowing his every move.
His girlfriend is from Senegal. She speaks French and Arabic and English, and like Tarek, is a Muslim and an illegal immigrant. While he's a musician, she's a jewellery maker. She makes various bracelets and necklaces and sells them in a flea market. In an interesting and telling moment, a buyer asks her where she's from. Senegal. The buyer, replies how she loves it there, she was in Cape Town last year. The inference is clear: I'm an ignorant American because...well you know why, but we didn't need the follow up comments to reiterate it. Okay. There's another beef.
I found myself liking this film a lot as Vale puts aside everything going on in his life to help Tarek, but in doing so helping himself, giving himself some meaning.
It got even better when Tarek's mother arrives on the scene. She hasn't heard from her son, doesn't know he's in jail, minutes away from being deported. She comes to what she thinks is her sons apartment and meets Vale. There's a slow dance as the two get to know each other and romance is in the air, but this isn't a Hollywood film so it doesn't end up as we might except even though we are routing for it.
I've seen Hiam in other films and she's memorable. Hard to imagine she hasn't had a bigger career. I was falling in love watching her on screen.
The film is so quiet at times, I wouldn't be hard to imagine it as Canadian film and it could have been. For this story, it may have worked better if it had been placed in Toronto.
The film is a character study about the lives of four people and how they interact. A quiet film for sure but still no great compositions in terms of filming. It's all adequate if at times going on too long.
Posted 2009/02/02 at 18h02ET in Movie Commentary.