Review by Sean Boelman
A lot of travelogues don’t have a ton of depth and substance, many often having a weaker narrative that offers some interesting observations, solid performances, and beautiful sights. That is the case with Zeina Durra’s Luxor, a quaint but relaxing Egypt-set romance that benefits from two strong central performances.
The film tells the story of a British aid worker who, while on vacation in Luxor, encounters a former lover, and together they reflect on the past. It’s a simple set-up that predominantly features this couple as they explore the city, wandering around and having conversations about the movie’s themes.
Admittedly, when the film is trying to say something profound, it doesn’t do so in a way that is particularly subtle. A handful of scenes are simply straightforward discussions about various ideas. The love interest character is even an archaeologist, which directly ties into the motif of the past.
At under ninety minutes in length, the movie definitely has brevity on its side. Even if it frequently feels like there isn’t a whole lot happening, watching a straightforward romance set against the backdrop of this ancient Egyptian city isn’t a bad way to spend an hour and a half. And there are a handful of legitimately funny moments as well.
There definitely could have been a bit more in terms of character development, but Durra’s approach is admirable. The filmmaker attempts to remove as much fluff as possible from the equation, with basically all of the characterization being delivered through dialogue, and even then, it’s pretty minimalistic.
Still, the performances of the two leads are what make the film so charming. Andrea Riseborough takes what is essentially an outline of a character and fills it in with her use of emotion and mannerisms. And while Karim Saleh’s turn isn’t nearly as nuanced, his chemistry with Riseborough is excellent.
Visually, there are a lot of really great things going on here. Ultimately, much of this movie’s appeal is going to be in watching these people wander through the beautiful landscapes. And cinematographer Zelmira Gainza does an excellent job of capturing them in a way that is consistently aesthetically-appealing.
Luxor is a cute and insubstantial romantic travelogue set in a gorgeous ancient city. Even though it doesn’t have a particularly strong narrative, the film is worth watching if only to make viewers nostalgic for the days that vacation like this would have been possible.
Luxor screened at the 2020 AFI FEST which ran October 15-22.