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The Visitor

Rated M,
103 minutes

Written and directed by Thomas McCarthy (who also did the excellent 2003 film, The Station Agent), The Visitor explores the questions of who belongs and where does my world begin and end.

The story is about a bereaved academic called Walter (played by Richard Jenkins) who visits New York to present a conference paper he has ‘co-authored’ on economics in the developing world.

He certainly represents the developed world, owning a beautiful house in Connecticut as well as a rarely used apartment in New York City.

Staying at the apartment, unbenownst to Walter, is a young couple, Tarek (Haaz Sleiman) and Zainab (Danai Gurira), who are refugees from Syria and Senegal.

Walter, after an awkward introduction, welcomes the presence of his new flatmates as he completes his role as educator and begins a new role of student, learning, among other things, how to play the drum from Tarek.

Walter, whose grief for his classical musician wife has frozen his life and body in mindless routine, learns the freedom of Tarek’s chosen ‘Afrobeat’ rhythms.

Tarek’s enthusiasm is infectious, a gift grown in spite of the grief of losing his father, a journalist who died after imprisonment by the Syrian Government.

Tarek’s liberty is also taken from him by the unrelenting post 9-11 US immigration system.

The remainder of "The Visitor" describes Walters attempts to have Tarek released, as well as his relationship with Tarek’s concerned (and radiant) mother, Mouna (played by Hiam Abbass).

The creator of this film balances the tragic and romantic in everything he portrays – music, Manhattan, language, food, tourism, light and knowledge.

OK, melancholy me loved The Visitor. But maybe not everyone will travel the whole journey of this film, which charts an extensive path around some major thematic headlands.

The closing scenes of Walter playing the drum in a New York subway will, I hope, turn the viewer’s world upside down.

There are also some glancing blows from the director at the US-centred times we live in. McCarthy suggests those living near the centre of power may soon find themselves visiting a world that has carried on without them – and being touched by such an encounter, as he evidently has been.

Film website: http://www.thevisitorfilm.com

Reviewed by Mark Young