(director/writer: Zeina Durra; cinematographer: Zelmira Gainza; editors: Andrea Chignoli/Matyas Fekete; music: Nascuy Linares; cast: Andrea Riseborough (Hana), Michael Landes (Carl), Shirin Redha (Dunia),  Karim Saleh (Sultan), Salima Ikram (Salima), Shahira Fahmy (Leila), Violet Brannan (June), Janie Aziz (Angie); Runtime: 85; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Zeina Durra, Mohamed Hefzy, Mamdouh Saba; Samuel Goldwyn Films; 2020-UK/Egypt-in English & Arabic, with English subtitles)

“A low-key film I dearly admired for its ability to have so much breath and to say so much by saying so little.

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

The London-born Zeina Durra (“The Imperialists Are Still Alive!“) is the writer-director of this thoughtful look at a woman needing time to mentally recover from war duty. The lush scenic travel film becomes a meditation on the uncertainty of the future for this beleaguered woman. It’s set in Luxor, a touristy Egyptian city on the Nile, made up of ancient temples and colossal stone walls carved with Egyptian hieroglyphics.

In this art-house indie, an exhausted British aid worker, Hana (Andrea Riseborough), takes a break from the Middle-East war-zone duty and returns to a beloved place she once visited, where she can now look back at the past while uncertain of the future and in search for meaning in the present.

Wearing baggy, unattractive clothing
, the middle-aged Hana arrives at the celebrated old-fashioned Winter Palace Hotel in Luxor for an indefinite stay away from the horrors of the Jordanian-Syrian border, where she’s been working in a war trauma unit and has clearly been affected by the war.

Hana has a chance meeting with the Egyptian archeologist, Sultan (Karim Saleh), whom she had a past relationship with and the reunion has them both caught off guard. She agrees to go with him to his latest dig in the Valley of the Kings, where they catch up on their past lives. But she has no interest of rekindling the romance.

The soft-spoken and thoughtful aid worker tells the sensitive Sultan “I’m broken. I can’t take any more pain,” and can’t go onto another war zone in Yemen just yet. She needs
time for Rest and Relaxation. She would like also to study the religions of the past in Luxor, like the fertility goddess Isis, someone the Egyptians worshiped as a symbol of rebirth.

Luxor is shown as a popular tourist spot for world travelers, and it probably amplifies Hana’s need to be near the ancient temples but not in the way the tourists might need to. Hana hopes in enough time to come out of her funk and get over all her haunting memories of the war to move on with her life.

The enigmatic film, with sparse dialogue, is told in 12 chapters, and has Hana meeting such diverse people in Luxor as the female Egyptology expert Salima Ikram, basically playing himself. There are several others she meets like her ill-advised pick-up at the hotel bar with the crude American tourist Carl (Michael Landes).

The great Egyptian singer Asmahan’s “Ya Habibi Taala” opens and closes the spiritual film on a high note.

It’s a well-made film that makes you think about its main character without fully getting to know her except how reluctant she is to fully express her inner feelings. It’s a low-key film I dearly admired for its ability to have so much breath and to say so much by saying so little.

saleh and riseborough

REVIEWED ON 12/26/2020  GRADE: B