Visitor (USA; 108 min.)
directed by: Thomas McCarthy
starring: Richard Jenkins; Haaz Sleiman; Danai Jekesai Gurira; Hiam Abbass; Marian Seldes
Michael says: "THE STATION AGENT was no fluke. Thomas McCarthy has delivered a sophomore effort that holds the possibly fleeting distinction of my favorite film of the festival so far. THE VISITOR is a 'cause' film, focusing on the tragic plight of the treatment of illegal immigrants and the way families are torn apart. There's a whiff of the benevolent, white, male discovering (or rediscovering) his humanity by helping those not like himself, but this film is so gentle and beautifully structured that this can be easily overlooked.
Connecticut College professor Walter Vale (played with enormous skill by 'Six feet under's' Richard Jenkins) has been sleepwalking through life since the death of his wife. When circumstance forces him to travel to his apartment in New York City to present a paper at a conference, he discovers a young couple living there illegally. After the initial antagonistic encounter, the three become friendly, and Walter finds his life opening up. He bonds strongly with the Syrian-born Tarek, who begins teaching him the African drum. The crisis point arrives when Tarek is arrested (targeted, really), the threat of deportation looming over him. While seeking to help his Senegalese girlfriend, Esi, he is unprepared for the arrival of Tarek's mother Mouna (the magnificent Hiam Abbass) and finds his life taking another unexpected turn.
Deft with trios, McCarthy has written an exquisitely human film that while directed at the masses of U.S. citizens in an effort to instill understanding, succeeds first and foremost as a smartly sweet comedy/drama about humanity. In addition to the fine performances by Jenkins and Abbass (FREE ZONE; THE SYRIAN BRIDE), the film features terrific acting by newcomers Haaz Sleiman and Danai Jekesai Gurira as the young couple. New York City is wonderfully used as the backdrop for this tale, and I think I recognized several locations in Bruce's neighborhood in the Village.
The Q&A afterwards featured McCarthy and the entire cast save for
Jenkins. I was thrilled to be able to speak with McCarthy, Abbass and
Gurira, who were all gracious and warm interacting with the crowds. Mark
this one in your mental notebooks and make sure to see it when it is released.
A distribution deal was in the works at them time."