Saturday, August 23, 2008

The Visitor: We are not helpless children!

The Visitor is a film you shouldn't miss.

"We are not helpless children!"

Richard Jenkins is Walter Vale, a Connecticut Economics professor struggling, through music, to find some meaning in his life without his wife. "Tarek is teaching me the drum. I sound a lot better when he is playing with me."

Haaz Sleiman is Tarek, a gentle but passionate professional drummer from Syria who faces deportation from the U.S. as an illegal alien. "I just want to live my life and play my music. What's so wrong about that."

Danai Gurira plays Zainab, Tarek's Senegalese partner. She works as a jewellery-maker living each day in fear of deportation. "Sometimes Tarek would point at the Statue and jump up and down like we are arriving in New York for the first time."

Hiam Abbass, is Mouna, Tarek's mother, trying to protect her son from the fate which killed her husband.

Tom McCarthy's direction is both understated and in-your-face. It is hard not to be touched by each of the main characters and their troubled lives. They are finely drawn without resorting to stereotypes.

On the other hand he is not afraid to make his political points without subtlety. The clich├ęd symbolism of the Statue of Liberty, both in its real form and as a mural in the detention centre, is only trumped by seemingly innocent references to the Twin Towers and Ellis Island.

You don't have to be deeply interested in issues related to refugees, asylum seekers or 21st Century xenophobia to enjoy this film. In fact it might help. It was the personal rather than the political level that made The Visitor the best U.S. movie I've seen for ages.