Luxor review – Andrea Riseborough shines in a story of love and trauma
An early selling-point of cinema was its ability to allow people to see locations on the other side of the world, places they could never dream of getting to in person. A century on, current restrictions mean we are once again travelling through our screens, and new drama Luxor provides the perfect antidote for those feeling a bit penned in.
Andrea Riseborough (Mandy, The Grudge) plays Hana, a British surgeon who arrives in Luxor for a break, having suffered a horrific unspoken experience in a Syrian warzone. Having studied there in her 20s, the Egyptian city holds many happy memories for her, and it’s fun to watch her soak in the architecture and reconnect with old flame Sultan (Karim Saleh).
Independent films set in exotic cities can sometimes lean on their surroundings to the point where they become 90 minute sightseeing expeditions. That isn’t the case here, as while much of the film is contemplative, an emotional reckoning quietly builds thanks to Riseborough’s slow-burn performance.
Hana is introduced to us as a closed off individual, unphased by the sights and sounds of Luxor. Early on, the well-worn chat up lines of an obnoxious American tourist seem to have no effect on her, and yet the next shot is them in bed together. As Sultan comes back into her life, there is an easy rapport as the two reflect on their relationship, and gradually Riseborough betrays some lingering affection: when he reminds her that they are friends on Facebook, Hana mutters “they last thing I want to see are pictures of you on a beach in Dubai, happy with kids”.
The star does a wonderful job of packing so much into these narrative breadcrumbs. Hana remarks that Luxor feels “pregnant” with the weight of its history, and every silence heaves with emotion. Writer-Director Zeina Durra visually reflects this psychological barrier – we only see the moments before and after sleeping with someone, and when Hana’s trauma finally causes her to break in the film’s final moments, a door is literally shut in our face. It’s a story of grief so deep it needs to be concealed.
Luxor’s thoughtful tone and leisurely pace won’t be for everyone, but London-born filmmaker Durra has crafted a character study that rewards those who pay attention.
Luxor is available on demand from 6th November