Writer-director Zeina Durra crafts her second feature project following her 2010 indie-drama The Imperialists Are Still Alive!. Titled Luxor, the film stars Andrea Riseborough and Karim Saleh, as it tackles uncertain futures, coping with past choices, and living a life that may not quite be at its full potential in a quiet, haunting fashion.
Recovering from her work in a Syrian warzone, surgeon Hanna (Riseborough) revisits her old haunt of Luxor in Egypt, resting up in a plush, quiet hotel. Hanna fills her time by wandering round archaeological sites and enjoy pleasantries with other hotel guests, yet she soon coincidentally reconnects with former lover Sulta (Saleh), with their tentative relationship triggering Hanna to quietly address her past and future.
Making the most of the striking Egyptian visuals, Luxor is filled with sweeping shots of the grandeur of tombs and darkened inners of archaeological majesties – whilst even the colonial inspired hotel has an eerie, quiet elegance. This setting makes an intriguing and fitting canvas for Hanna’s contemplative journey to unfold upon, with the surgeon’s confused place in the world feeling somewhat heightened by the ancient surroundings.
Durra does not fill her narrative with back-story or weighty explanation, instead allowing delicately crafted subtext and brief moments of dialogue to quietly explore Hanna’s journey. This allows Riseborough much space to convey the narrative through her gentle lead performance – the actress portraying Hanna’s underplayed mid-life existential crisis through her body language and interactions as she drifts through the ancient city.
Riseborough captures Hanna’s desire to find some sense of restoration through her time in Luxor – the city where she lived twenty years prior – hoping to rebuild and find what her life was lacking through the city. Yet her time there simply prompts more questions – something heightened by a chance meeting with former-lover Sultan. Whilst a reconnection with Sultan doesn’t provide the glue that might be expected in a more conventional drama, Luxor uses this to pose more questions for Hanna – particularly those of her uncertain future and further struggle to find a place in life.
Whilst it does not provide all the answers, the meditative style of Luxor and a quietly engaging performance from Riseborough creates quite an intriguing world that draws us in in an unforced, calm manner.