Political Film Society - The Visitor


PFS Film Review
The Visitor


 

A Syrian criticizes the government, is imprisoned for many years, and dies not longer after his release from prison. His mother Mouna Khalil (played by Hiam Abbass) and son Tarek (played by Haaz Sleiman) flee to Michigan, seeking diplomatic asylum. Although her application is accepted, she throws away a letter denying his petition before he can see the deportation order. Years go by. Tarek moves to New York, befriends Zainab (played by Danai Gurira), a Senegalese illegal alien, and they find a Greenwich Village apartment through unusual connections. The apartment, however, happens to be owned by Walter Vale (played by Richard Jenkins), an economics professor who lost focus when his pianist spouse died some years earlier. One day, his department chair requires him to present a paper at a conference at NYU because the author is about to give birth. When he arrives at his apartment, he discovers Tarek and Zainab living there. Lonely, he insists that they should stay, and he finds joy as Tarek teaches him how to use his drums. One day, Tarek is apprehended in the subway as a suspicious Arab and confined in an immigration facility. After visiting Tarek, Vale hires an attorney, and Zainab moves out to be with friends. Not having heard from her son, Mouna arrives in New York, knocks on the apartment door, learns the bad news, and now Professor Vale has a new friend, if only to console, but he gets a leave of absence to pursue his new cause, only to experience the frustration of powerlessness. Directed by Thomas McCarthy, The Visitor demonstrates that the American government has little compassion after 9/11. The noir ending, however, is writ large in reality. Missing are subtitles at the end to convey the magnitude of the situation, particularly the fact that international law forbids deporting persons to countries that practice torture. The only clue to a larger lesson is the statement by Tarek that the detention facility is inhumane and that none being deported are security threats, as the real terrorists would have major financial backing. MH

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