Hadi Ghandour’s newest film outing is a beautifully devastating cautionary tale, and a sensitive study of cultural melancholia.
At first glance, The Traveller could easily pass itself off as one of the many second-rate, dime-a-dozen slow-burner indie films where a man travels beyond the horizons he has known his whole life, and somehow finds the mental fortitude within him to rebuild his entire life the way he wants to live instead of sticking to society’s rigid constraints. Plenty of these films make their way onto the indie festival circuit year after year – as much as I am a firm advocate of independent cinema, it would be very untruthful indeed not to admit that some films under the radar deserve to remain under the radar indeed. But The Traveller is not one of those films. Conversely, it is so much farther under the radar than it deserves to be – possibly because of its deceptive synopsis – that in my eyes, its lack of publicity is a tragedy. With stunning performances and a riveting storyline from start to finish, The Traveller is a movie whose title deserves to be on everyone’s lips.
Writer-director Hadi Ghandour first came up with the film’s premise in 2011, after meeting a fellow Lebanese man working at Disneyland who was blown away by the sheer opportunity and the promise of a better life that America presented to him, but was also experiencing a certain brand of cultural melancholia – being separated from his wife, children, and culture was turning him into a different person that he wasn’t sure he liked. This distinct figure in Ghandour’s life took form in The Traveller as Adnan (Rodrigue Sleiman), a lovable travel agent and devoted family man whose desire to see the world that lies beyond Beirut is granted in the form of a trip to Paris for a travel agency conference. While in Paris, the sudden broadening of Adnan’s horizons brings with it a dangerous recklessness, and a slightly disconcerting love triangle between him, his middle-aged second cousin Insaf (Aida Sabra), and Insaf’s beautiful daughter Layla (Donia Eden). What follows is Adnan’s slow and steady descent into hedonism and familial neglect, which ultimately brings about consequences of its own.
both a cautionary tale and a parable that will resonate with viewers young and old
The Traveller may be a movie about voyages, but it is also an astute condemnation of today’s gap-year mentality – the idea that when one travels, they will somehow miraculously ‘find themselves’ from being steeped in foreign culture. It effectively dispels this myth by creating Adnan as an initially likeable character, whose increasingly irrational choice of actions soon renders him more obnoxious and erratic than amiable. His negative character development as a result of his exposure to a different culture plausibly captures the idea that when one travels, it is as easy to lose oneself as to find oneself, and that travel is hardly the cure for all ills, whether that be isolation, depression, or stagnation in life. This message is ably carried forth by Rodrigue Sleiman’s adept performance as Adnan; equal parts jovial and overbearing as he attempts to assert himself over Layla. His initial awkward crush on his cousin’s daughter is charming at first, but like his trip itself, that too goes sour all too quickly – and drives home Ghandour’s heartrending conclusion to this tale of melancholia.
In an age of increasing globalisation, migration, and cultural osmosis, The Traveller is both a cautionary tale and a parable that will resonate with viewers young and old. It does not proselytise nor preach – rather, it vividly illustrates the maxim that the grass is not always greener on the other side without being morally high-handed.
‘The Traveller’ is now playing at the Raindance Film Festival 2017, taking place from 20th September to 1st October. Information and tickets here.
Image: Raindance Film Festival 2017