Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Luxor ***

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 22nd November, 2020

In search of past pleasures

A skinny, blonde British doctor approaching 40, Hana (Andrea Riseborough) arrives in the Egyptian city of Luxor and checks into the atmospheric but somewhat dowdy Winter Palace Hotel. She is lackluster, jaded, seemingly introspective, but that does not stop her allowing a handsome but crass tourist in the hotel bar to chat her up on the first evening and take her back to his room, from which she creeps out in the middle of the night. But it soon becomes clear that Hana is on a quest, a journey of remembrance to reclaim the enthusiasm she had for Luxor and the ancient temples and tombs on the other side of the Nile when she was there years before. Perhaps to regain enthusiasm for life. Some locals recognise her, but the only time she smiles warmly is when she is near children. Then she runs into the dashing Egyptologist, Sultan (Karim Saleh), with whom she had had an affair during her previous stay and gently he coaxes her into rekindling their passion. By this stage we have learnt that Hana has been working as a doctor on the Syria-Jordan border and that she has witnessed terrible things. In effect, she is suffering from PTSD, which explains her odd behaviour, most vividly expressed in an embarrassingly drunken dance in the Winter Palace bar. Until one realises that, however, she is really quite annoyingly detached. I think it would have been more effective if director Zeina Durra had included at least one flashback to Syria to help explain Hana’s condition. There are one or two odd scenes, notably a dream sequence in which four little girls in white dresses are seen skipping through one of the temples. In contrast, there are snatches of documentary-style reality, such as Hana and Sultan’s meeting with the real-life archaeology professor, Salima Ikram. There are some beautiful shots of antiquities and of the little ferries that criss-cross the Nile. Yet the film left me disappointed, as I felt it would have been so much more impactful if the reasons for Hana’s withdrawn nature had been made more evident.

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