BEIRUT: Amid the onslaught of Hollywood blockbusters, Lebanese independent films continue to bless the national box office.
The latest of these little trains that can is a film entitled The Traveler.
Written and directed by Hadi Ghandour, a young up and coming Lebanese-Belgian filmmaker, The Traveler tells the tale of Adnan, a travel agent in a small Lebanese village, who has always dreamt of traveling the world but never had the chance to leave Lebanon.
Ghandour allows sets his narrative’s awkward and shy pace from the film’s opening scene and syncs it to the film’s protagonist.
As the opening act progresses, the audience is introduced to Adnan’s surroundings as his unhappiness with his life becomes clearer with every shot and frame. In his mind, Adnan sees his world as dull, routine-filled, and hopelessly unexciting.
The only time Adnan lights up is when he speaks about a different country to any client that walks into the travel agency where Adnan works.
Then, as if a message from the heavens, or possibly the opposite, Adnan receives the opportunity to travel to Paris for business purposes – and so Adnan’s odyssey begins.
Along the way, much like all journeys, Adnan crosses paths with many characters, each with his or her own struggles and in many ways a reflection of an obstacle in Adnan’s inner journey.
Although heavily influenced by Homer’s Odyssey, even Aristotle’s Poetics, a manual on writing tragedy, Ghandour places his soul onto the page and the screen and invites the audience into emoting and get lost within the deceptive nature of dreams alongside Adnan.
The screenplay does suffer a bit from its lengthiness, as the second act does drag on a bit. This is saved, however, by the performances and the film’s visual set up.
Ghandour’s understanding of framing and color palettes give The Traveler a very Wes Anderson feel which is rather refreshing to see in Lebanese cinema.
This is quite evident in the scene where Adnan arrives in Paris and exits the taxi.
The color palette white, blue, and green pastels contrasted with the street and Adnan’s brown get-up is more of a painting than it is a shot.
Rodrigue Sleiman, who plays Adnan, gives one of his most powerful on-screen performances to date.
Truly showing Adnan’s vulnerability and letting go, Sleiman proves that Lebanon’s actors can go the distance when given material that is worthy of that.
Aida Sabra’s performance as Insaf, a woman plagued by her loneliness and her lack of companionship is quite good as well. In the final scene between Insaf and Adnan, Sabra’s exposes Insaf’s broken desperation pulling out a few tears from the audience.
Though both Sleiman and Sabra deliver powerful seasoned performances, it’s the young Donia Eden who steals the show.
Her character becomes an almost siren-like figure, who challenges Adnan at every turn ultimately making him doubt his own beliefs and identity.
She lures him away from tradition, his wife, and his values, to the realm of rebellion, freedom, and sexuality, yet she does so unknowingly.
As his journey begins to spiral out of control, Adnan is left with only one choice.
The film has quite an interesting score mixing various cultures, much like how both Lebanon and Paris are melting pots of culture and nationalities.
Nonetheless, the score is not the only facet of this film that merges cultures. Ghandour brings his experience from the West and the East and executes a cinematic bridge.
Showing the visual diversity with the framing and use of color and light, to the pacing of the edit, to the universality of the narrative, Ghandour, and co. truly deliver a unique film that is both familiar and new at the same time.
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