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In Connecticut, lonely widowed Professor Walter Vale has a boring life. He teaches only one class at the local college and is trying to learn how to play the piano, despite not having the necessary musical talent. Walter is assigned to attend a conference about Global Policy and Development at New York University, where he is to give a lecture about a paper on which he is co-author. When he arrives at his apartment in New York, he finds Tarek Khalil, a Syrian musician, and Zainab, a Senegalese street vendor, living there. He sympathizes with the situation of the illegal immigrants and invites the couple to stay with him. Tarek invites him to go to his gig at Jules Live Jazz. Walter is fascinated with his African drum and Tarek offers to teach Walter to play the drum. However, after an incident in the subway, Tarek is arrested by the police and sent to a detention center for illegal immigrants. Walter has just hired a lawyer to defend Tarek when, out of the blue, Tarek's mother Mouna ... Written by
Claudio Carvalho, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Beautiful film, with a mesmerizing performance by Richard Jenkins
Thomas McCarthy's follow-up to the enchanting "The Station Agent" (2003) is another contemplative drama filled with subtle humor and a lot of humanity/passion for its characters. Walter (Richard Jenkins, "Six Feet Under") is a widowed college professor that meets two illegal immigrants - a Senegalese woman (Danai Gurira) and a Syrian man, Tarek (Haaz Sleiman) -, living in his apartment in NYC. After the initial discomfort of the situation, Walter decides to help the young couple and an unlikely friendship is born.
"The Visitor" deals with human relationships and discusses post-9/11 America socio-political issues (the plight of immigrants, xenophobia, etc.) with no hidden agendas. McCarthy has proved himself as a sensitive director/writer, and he extracts a magnificent performance from Richard Jenkins, a character actor who gets his first leading role at the age of 60. Jenkins is fascinating to watch as an ordinary man trying to find himself; he gives one of the best male performances of the decade and I'd love if he got at least an Oscar nomination, since I can see him remaining in my top 5 by the end of the year, perhaps still as my favourite. I know that the movie's small indie weight and the fact that it was released early in the year will probably hurt his chances (the Independent Spirit Award could be his biggest reward), but if it's strongly campaigned, it might get a nod à la "The Savages" (even though I know he's not half big a name as Laura Linney). Anyway, I hope he gets some sort of recognition - he'll also be seen later this year in the Coens' "Burn After Reading". If you like human dramas, sensitive writing/directing and superb acting, you should check "The Visitor" - the finest 2008 release I've seen so far. 10/10.
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