4.12.16

A Film a Week - The Traveller / Le Voyageur

Note: A Film a Week is a weekly column on this blog, run on Sunday for our English-language readers and friends, presenting usually local or European festival films to a wider audience. Every review is directly written and not translated.
Note #2: This review has been developed through the NisiMasa workshop on this year's edition of Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival. It has been originally published on Nisimazine and Cineuropa.



A life devoid of travelling can be frustrating, especially for those who are stuck in one place that they don’t particularly like, or which they even despise. But once that dire existence of doing the same things day after day is changed for the better, the sudden surge of new experiences can prove to be too much to handle. This is the theme of Hadi Ghandour's The Traveller [+], which world-premiered in the Tallinn Black Nights First Feature Competition.
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Adnan (Rodrigue Sleiman from Halal Love (and Sex) [+]) is a travel agent who can sweet-talk and impress customers with his broad knowledge of sights from around the world, but he has never left his home country of Lebanon himself. His luck is about to change, however, when his boss sends him on a business trip to Paris. 
But the vibrant metropolis proves to be too much for the first-time traveller. The conference he is attending is confusing and overwhelming, shown in a montage with ever-increasing speed. Things are no better at his temporary Parisian home: he gets in the middle of a generational clash between his cousin Insaf (Aïda Sabra), a traditionally minded divorcee who has never adjusted to life abroad, and her daughter, Layla (a confident Donia Eden), a completely integrated, modern Parisienne. The fact that his boss is pushing him to close a deal and his wife Souad (Romy Melhem) is feeling insecure about him being in Paris doesn’t help, either. The only pleasant and friendly moments are the ones he shares with restaurant owner Jean (Sebastian Bertrand), born in Lebanon but raised in Paris by his adoptive parents, and dreaming of the country he has never seen. But if he ever went there, he would probably be just as lost as Adnan is in Paris. Insaf knows both worlds and tries to make the best of them, but she has never found true happiness in Paris, and Layla is the only one who feels comfortable in her own skin.
Writer-director Ghandour is no stranger to multiple identities: born in Jordan to Lebanese parents, and having grown up in Belgium, this London Film School graduate living in Paris tackles the issues of migration, integration and the clash of cultures. Films that bet all their chips on these broad themes generally tend to lose their characters halfway through, but this is not the case here. Adnan is not only on a journey towards his dreams, nor to Paris; he is on a life journey, during which he will learn new things about himself.
The city of Paris as an additional character was not picked by accident: the symbolism of the place is strong, especially for the Lebanese people, for both historical and cultural reasons. It is portrayed as a big, chaotic, modern metropolis, but without using images of well-known tourist hotspots. In contrast with the early scenes in Lebanon, which are shot with a static camera, the ones set in Paris feature more noticeable camera movements.
Confidently acted and shot in natural colours, this is a solid debut, albeit with its faults, such as the sometimes oversimplified characterisation and its 100-minute running time, which proves to be a tad excessive. But the author certainly has something to say and has articulated it in a satisfying manner.