Tuesday, September 27, 2005

le grand voyage film

The feature film “Le Grand Voyage”, which is about to go on general release in Britain, chronicles the geographical and emotional journey of an elderly father and his son during a car journey from France to Makkah.

The film had a special screening for a multifaith audience at the British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA), in London’s Piccadilly, last Wednesday. The screening was organised by Simon Keyes, the director of St Ethelburga’s Centre for Reconciliation and Peace.

The film’s director and scriptwriter Ismael Ferroukhi, who is himself an immigrant to France of Moroccan origin, was present at the screening and answered questions afterwards. The members of the audience were full of praise for the epic film, with some finding that it contained echoes of their own difficult relationships with immigrant fathers.

Several of those present wondered how conservative Muslims would react to the film. One man responded that he is an imam at his local mosque, and that his sister is even more conservative than he is, but “we both loved the film.”

The film has won several awards, including the Luigi de Laurentis Award for the best first film at the Venice Film Festival in 2004. It was the opening film last December at the Dubai Film Festival.

“Le Grand Voyage” stars the young French actor Nicholas Cazale (whose grandmother is Algerian) as Reda, and Moroccan actor Mohamed Majd as his father, a Moroccan who has lived in France for 30 years.

The film exposes the wide gap between the father and his moody son who is preoccupied by his non-Muslim French girlfriend Lisa and by his final examinations. When his father tells him he wants him to drive him to Makkah, he complains to his mother: “Can’t he fly, like everyone else?” At one point in the journey the father explains to Reda why it was important to him to undertake this long road journey with its hardships rather than take the easier way of flying to the Hajj.

At first the father seems unbearably authoritarian and harsh, even discarding Reda’s mobile phone in a rubbish bin while he is asleep in the car. The distance between them extends to language: the father speaks Moroccan dialect to Reda, while Reda speaks to him only in French.

In his deeply involving film, Ferroukhi explores the nuances and subtle shifts in the father-son relationship as the car passes through often achingly beautiful scenery in countries including Italy, Slovenia, Croatia, Bulgaria, Turkey, Syria and Jordan.

After crossing the Turkish border the travellers are befriended by a worldly Turkish man Mustapha (played by Jacky Nercessian) who accompanies them until the father mistakenly accuses him of stealing their money. “You may know how to read and write, but you know nothing about life,” the father admonishes Reda.

As they draw near Makkah, they join up with vehicle loads of Arabs from various countries. Ferroukhi conveys the sense of warmth and brotherhood among the Hajj pilgrims, and the scenes shot in Makkah are particularly memorable.

The father explains to Reda that his one fear had been that he would die without going to Makkah, and tells him: “God bless you.” Father and son have moved from their combative relationship of miscomprehension to a new understanding and appreciation, before the film’s harrowing final twist.

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