Zeina Durra’s debut feature The Imperialists Are Still Alive! was an instant hit when it premiered at Sundance 10 years ago. It received rave reviews and even went on to win a number of prestigious awards around the world. Since that promising start, though, very little has been heard from Durra – until now.
In her new film Luxor, set in the ancient Egyptian city of the same name, Durra presents a sensitively written and well-acted story about love, loss and the paralysing effects of trauma. It stars Andrea Riseborough (The Death of Stalin, Possessor) and French actor Karim Saleh (Transparent) as former lovers attempting to rekindle their relationship against the backdrop of the city’s ruins.
Fresh from a particularly traumatic time as a war zone doctor in the Middle East, British aid worker Hana (Riseborough) arrives at Luxor’s Winter Palace Hotel for a few days of rest. Obviously deeply affected by her recent experiences, she roams the city, reminiscing about past events.
It is here that Hana has a chance encounter with her former archeologist boyfriend Sultan (Saleh) who seems set on them getting back together. Apprehensive at first, she soon becomes aware of her lingering feelings for him when she gets annoyed because he flirts with another woman. Sadly, the trauma of her recent experience may have ruined any chances of a normal life and reconnecting with Sultan.
Durra – whose mother is Bosnian–Palestinian and whose father is Jordanian–Lebanese – presents a film which is very much steeped in her own familial past. That she has chosen a European protagonist to tell her story is both important and telling. As Hana reacquaints herself with the streets of Luxor, there is a sense that she is both highly familiar with the place and yet a stranger there as well. Durra also hints at Egypt’s more recent past as a European colony, depicting a crumbling, once grand hotel struggling to recapture its glory days.
Riseborough portrays Hana as both fragile and sharp-witted. Her brief fling with brash American tourist Carl (Michael Landes) establishes her very early on as a woman very much in charge of her own destiny. She is also unafraid to be direct when she needs to be, berating Sultan about the way he has chosen to live his life, but cuts a vulnerable figure as she struggles to re-acclimatise to normality away from the atrocities of war. With its mournful, meditative tone and stripped-down aesthetic, Luxor is a film of heartfelt introspection, held together by a phenomenal performance from Riseborough.
- Director: Zeina Durra
- Starring: Andrea Riseborough, Michael Landes, Shirin Redha
- Release date: November 6 (Digital)