Sunday, July 06, 2008

THE VISITOR - admirably restrained

THE VISITOR is a beautifully acted, admirably restrained, chamber drama. It focuses on the relationship between a dessicated old academic and three immigrants that he meets by chance. Richard Jenkins gives a subtly modulated performance as the introverted Professor Vale. Forced to visit New York to attend a conference, he finds that a fraudster has been renting his apartment to a young couple. They panic, and then apologetically leave, but Vale is decent enough not to have them sleep rough. He invites them back and forms a tentative friendship, cemented through a shared love of music. He starts to enjoy life again. The politics of immigration are barely mentioned until the young man, Tarek, is arrested and threatened with deportation. Even then, writer-director Thomas McCarthy doesn't force a political message down our throat. Instead, he lets the audience follow Walter Vale through the process of visiting a friend who's in detention. The petty frustrations and callous treatment speak for themselves.

This is, finally, the strength of the film. McCarthy lets the characters and situations speak for themselves, quietly, forcefully, authentically.

THE VISITOR played Toronto 2007 and Sundance 2008. It opened in the US earlier this year and is currently on release in the UK. It opens in France in October.

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