Review: A Sense of Place and History in Deeply Affecting Luxor

The story is fairly straightforward and deceptively simple, but the emotions are complex, separating writer/director Zeina Durra’s Luxor from other travelogues disguised as movies. Durra (The Imperialists Are Still Alive!) owes a great deal to star Andrea Riseborough (recently seen in Possessor), who plays British aid worker Hana, returning to the ancient Egyptian city of Luxor, a place where she experienced many of her best moments. While getting settled in and just beginning her explorations, she runs into former lover Sultan (Karim Saleh), a renowned archaeologist. The two shared a history in this place, and as Hana figures out what to do with the many feelings she still has for Sultan, they wander around on both sides of the Nile, seeing new sights and revisiting old ones.


Image courtesy of Samuel Goldwyn Films

It’s left open as to whether Hana went back to Luxor knowing that Sultan would be there, although I’m guessing she did. But what I’m not convinced of is that she went there to rekindle something. Instead, I think she spends most of the film searching for answers and attempting to find the place where she experienced some of her greatest happiness, if only to drown out more recent (and unnamed) pain and trauma she experienced in her recent travels in the region. But Luxor is so loaded with history and an ancient spirituality that those vibrations seem to overwhelm Hana’s attempt to achieve some serenity.

With very little spoken by Riseborough, she still manages to convey every deep feeling she has, dark or otherwise. She accompanies Sultan on his most recent dig, tours underground tombs and wonders if those digging around them ever think about the fact that they are disrupting someone’s eternal sleep. For the audience, Luxor is a rare opportunity to tour these exquisite and remarkably preserved locations and even receive a bit of a history lesson in the process.

As the film progresses, it becomes clearer that Hana is slowly falling to pieces, whether because of the place or the company or something else entirely. And while the arms of an old (and available) lover might seem like an easy fix, we don’t get the sense that an easy fix was ever part of what makes her so capable as a person. But this uncertainly about where her life is headed manages to jump into our heads and makes us question our own present and future. That’s due entirely to the power of Riseborough’s performance, which transported me in so many ways. Those looking for more things resembling story should probably look elsewhere. But those who accept the value and beauty of location and genuinely transcendent acting should feel quite pleased by Luxor.

The film is available via VOD and Digital.

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