Samuel Goldwyn movies fit a specific niche. Those art house dramas; period romances; character studies in sorrow and regret. Zeina Durra’s minimalistic drama, Luxor, dots the i’s, crosses the t’s, and firmly signs its name in the lifeblood of all that is Samuel Goldwyn.
Set in the ancient Egyptian city, Luxor is almost portrayed as a silent documentary. Director Zeina Durra constantly has the camera leading or following. Down tight Egyptian streets. Through majestic ruins. Ahead of Hana, who is endlessly wandering; her thoughts leagues before her. Luxor is a contemplative movie, and Durra’s slow pacing accentuates that study.
To the movie’s benefit, Durra beautifully displays the archeological wonders of the city. From the Temples of Karnak and Luxor itself, to the Winter Palace hotel, Durra showcases a part of the world that thanks to COVID and the outgoing Presidency’s relationship with Arab affairs, remains an unvisited destination to many Americans. However, even Rick Steve’s tourism videos jump to a snappier beat.
Hana (Andrea Riseborough) is a British aid worker returning to Luxor on holiday. Scarred from scenes of an unmentioned battlefront, Hana wanders the quiet city alone until she runs into Sultan, an archaeologist and former lover. Sultan (Karim Saleh) is totally Indiana Jones looking to rekindle that affair with the feisty Marion. Hana would rather play the hard-to-get Willie and has no time for love, Dr. Jones. She is shellshocked and is hoping the mystery of the ancient world resets her ability to again see hope.
Luxor is 90 minutes of Hana walking, wondering, wanting. Durra slowly provides details to Hana’s life, but those little points become lost in the stagnant plot while the biggest mystery remains unanswered. If Hana so desperately wishes to move beyond her former life, why return to the city where she knows her former boyfriend works? Lots of wonderful ruins in Ireland that are aching to be visited.
Luxor is shot entirely on location and the city is magical. From the ordinary concrete streets to the weathered temple walls, the camera fully documents how the wonderful lives alongside the common. The banality of the plot tethers the amazing view with a simplistic stride. Birds are everywhere singing and chirping. Crickets provide the soundtrack of the night sky. The open sky is everywhere in the movie and so too are the creatures that inhabit those spaces.
Luxor is not meant to be a riotous rom com, but perhaps it should have been. The slow, piercing character study of a film is a worthy genre, yet Hana’s story has no true resolution. Her solemn attitude is frustrating as she cannot decipher the beauty that is all around her. What could have been a majestic tragedy is instead as dry and dusty as a desert road.