Pretentious is never a word you want associated with your film. It has a connotation that just never serves your project well, in the least. Unfortunately, Luxor, despite some strong visuals and a nice central performance, can’t help but give off that vibe. It’s palpable throughout a picture that wants to be hypnotic, but instead mostly winds up being frustrating. Now, that doesn’t make this a bad movie, but it’s one that’s too hit or miss, at least for me, to recommend. I’m in the minority when it comes to this flick, so keep that in mind, but when it opens this week, I’ll be one of the few not quite able to sing its praises…
The movie is a drama, mixed with a little romance. Hana (Andrea Riseborough) is a British aid worker returning to the ancient city of Luxor, where she’s previously been before. Checking into a fancy hotel, it’s unclear exactly what her plans are. Once settled, she tours the city, but also meets her former lover in Sultan (Karim Saleh). As she wanders around Luxor, sometimes with Sultan, she finds herself haunted by the familiar nature of the place. Additionally, elements of the past and present appear to be weighing on her, suggesting something notable occurred in the city at some point. From there, it’s a waiting game to see how it all gets resolved. Zeina Durra writes and directs, with Michael Landes and Shirin Redha joining Riseborough and Saleh in the cast. Nascuy Linares composes the score, while Zelmira Gainza handles the cinematography.
Andrea Riseborough is the main reason to see this film, if you do. She’s in basically every single scene and has a screen presence that puts you at ease. She’s very much your guide on this tour of the city. When it’s just staying with her and takes an interest in her character, the flick is on sturdier ground. It’s when other things come into play that it gets rocky. That’s where the pretension rears its head. Riseborough, however, is not part of that. She’s easily the best part of the project, bar none. It’s one of her better performances, to date. She comes close to selling some of the tougher elements of Luxor, including a dance sequence that’s rather out of nowhere.
Luxor looks good, but filmmaker Zeina Durra never makes the film interesting enough to overcome its narrative shortcomings. The romance between Hana and Sultan isn’t bad, but everything else that’s tacked on to it brings it down. What should have had a Richard Linklater vibe, echoing Before Sunrise/Sunset/Midnight, instead falls prey to trying to do too much. Less would have been more here. Durra’s writing and direction don’t believe that, however, and despite the nice visuals, the story sinks the ship. At the same time, Durra has something here, so it’s not easy to dismiss it, outright. Mostly, it makes me curious for what she might have up her sleeve next.
Opening this weekend, Luxor is a mixed bag of an experience that ultimately leaves you wanting just a little bit more out of it. If you’re willing to deal with a little more pretension than is probably necessary, you might feel kinder to it than I ended up feeling. It’s hardly a bad movie, just one that’s not quite up to the level it could have been. Again, most of my colleagues disagree, so your mileage may vary. If you’re curious, give it a look and see what you think of it. Maybe I’m nuts? Maybe I’m just ahead of the curve? Likely, the truth is somewhere in between.
Luxor is available to watch on Friday.
(Photos courtesy of Samuel Goldwyn Pictures)