The stories and landscapes behind the ceaseless movements of people around the world to the job and money-rich economies of Europe and America are throwing up an astonishing freight of brilliant films, music, literary themes and theatre.
The Visitor joins this great body of work. It takes as its starting point the midlife crisis of an Eastern seaboard liberal in the US, but instead of the theme staying inside the private world of Walter Vale, a college professor who could have come straight from the pages of John Updike, it advances straight into the precarious, cruel and mostly hidden world of the "illegals". That is, migrants who don’t have the legal right to be wherever they fetch up in the rich and callously regulated West. Widower Walter Vale( Jenkins) is a deadbeat professor at a prestigious Connecticut college. He tries to fill his time learning the piano, and repeating his lectures from year to year. Exasperated, the college forces him to to attend a conference in New York in place of a colleague and when he gets to the flat he has in the city — unvisited for a number of years — he finds it inhabited by a young couple who have unwittingly rented it from a crook as part of a scam.
The film then takes off as Vale begins to understand the circumstances of Syrian musician Tarek (the stunning Sleiman) and his West African girl friend Zainab( the excellent Gurira). When Tarek is picked up and detained within the nightmare world of post 9/11 state security, Vale, whose kindness to his unorthodox visitors is counterpoint to the State’s rigid brutality, realises both his civic impotence and the way he has let himself become emotionally useless. When Tarek’s frantic mother (Abbass) turns up, so do Vale's emotions. The Visitor is co-produced by Groundswell Productions and Participant Productions. Participant are new and somewhat unique — they make films to foster action and make people work for change (An Inconvenient Truth was theirs). The Visitor is engaging and dramatic, lovely and graceful to look at, intelligent and subtle without being preachy. Buy it, or rent it, and watch it.
EXTRAS ***½ An audio commentary with director Tom McCarthy and star Richard Jenkins; deleted scenes (with optional commentary); a making-of featurette (called A Visit from Director and Cast); a featurette called "Playing the Djembe" (aka, the drum); a behind-the-scenes featurtette; and the theatrical trailer.