Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Why Watch Foreign Films? Le Grand Voyage

What a lovely, relevant film! There was a moment early on that I connected with completely, one that is apt to strike a chord with many parents, especially today. I won't spoil it, but it has to do with a cell phone and a garbage can. Even in 2004, the message was clear . . . why didn't we listen?

Le Grand Voyage (The Great Journey) is a 2004 French production written and directed by Ismael Ferroukhi, filmed across multiple locations and spoken in both French and Moroccan Arabic. Part road trip, part religious awakening, the film travels across ten different countries as a devout father (Mohamed Majd) attempts to reconnect with his indifferent son, Reda (Nicolas Cazale).

As Reda is somewhat at odds with his father at the film's start, he is reluctant to drive to Mecca for this pilgrimage; his attention is directed at his phone, his upcoming school exams, and his non-Muslim girlfriend. He wonders aloud several times why his father doesn't just fly to Saudi Arabia. In disagreement for many of the first days, Reda and his father really don't seem to get along very well: deciding when to sleep, where to stop, and whether or not to pick up hitch-hikers is a continual cause for friction between the pair, and many scenes are spent in brooding silence. As Mecca draws closer and Reda begins to actually listen to his father, he realizes that his father's devotion, not only to his faith but to Reda and much of humankind, is heartfelt and remarkable.

Despite many moments of silence and awkwardness between father and son early on in the film, the music choices keep us from becoming impatient with their interactions together. Often playing is a simple progression of piano or orchestral chords that seem to swell at just the right moments but never take away from the emotion (or lack thereof) of the characters. Reda's father often breaks away with his rug to pray, but this act takes on an entirely new, profound meaning once they near Mecca; one voice joins with many others, the call to prayer and the resulting chants are heard fully and clearly over the landscape, becoming its own beautiful soundtrack. The physical landscapes themselves are varied and interesting, (lowlands, snow, deserts) and many times we are left wondering which country they've entered until a city is named or a new language is spoken. The journey itself while impressive in length and grandeur, seems in the end to be no less important than the distance the two men travel, emotionally, and this makes it a film for the ages.

Parents and children, be patient with each other. Time goes faster than you think it will.

Le Grand Voyage is 108 minutes and is unrated. I obtained a copy of this film through Netflix DVD.