My favorite film of 2008 so far is “The Visitor” a wonderful, touching and moving film about Walter (Richard Jenkins), a lonely professor who teaches one class in a small college in Connecticut. He’s asked to present a paper at a conference in New York City, and sees his life change when he encounters Tarek, a good-hearted street musician from Syria, and his Sengelese girlfriend Zianah living in his New York apartment.
The friendship Walter forms with these two, and how he emerges from his shell based on that relationship, form the backbone of the movie. Tarek teaches Walter to play the drums, which he learns with great enthusiasm, even joining Tarek and his friends in rhythmic jam sessions in the park.
Tarek and Zianah are both in the country illegally, and when Tarek is arrested, Walter attempts to help, hiring an immigration lawyer to get him released. Tarek’s mother Mouna comes to New York from Detroit looking for her son, and an attachment begins to form between the native Syrian and the widowed professor.
Probably my favorite film shot of the year shows Walter, Mouna and Zianah walking together on the street. They don’t have their arms around each other, or anything clichéd like that, just three strangers from different parts of the world who have formed the most unlikely of friendships.
The acting here is spot-on, with Jenkins’ hang-dog expressions perfectly encapsulating the character.
The film went into release in April, 2008 and here it is July and it’s still playing. It’s among the most likeable movies of the year, and I can only hope that everyone in the Immigration Department or any politician who has a say in this country’s inane immigration policies sees this movie.
Writer-director Thomas McCarthy’s previous movie was the wonderful “The Station Agent” (2003), about a dwarf (Peter Dinklage) moving to a small town and the people he meets and befriends there. I like McCarthy’s work a lot, as it showcases decent, humane people connecting with each other though they seemingly have nothing in common. I look forward to his next movie with the greatest of pleasure.
Rating for “The Visitor”: Four stars.