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A few weeks before his college entrance exams, Réda, a young man who lives in the south of France, finds himself obligated to drive his father to Mecca. The wide cultural and generational gap between the two is worsened by their lack of communication. Réda finds it hard to accommodate his father, who demands respect for himself and his pilgrimage. From France, through Italy, Serbia, Turkey, Syria, Jordan to Saudi Arabia, the two embark on a road trip that will change their lives forever. Named one of the top films of the decade by the London Times.
October 9, 2005
By Tom Dawson
"A tribute to the 97% of Muslims we never hear about in the Western world" is how French writer/director Ismael Ferroukhi describes his pleasingly understated road movie. Le Grand Voyage's premise involves a devout elderly patriarch (Mohamed Majd) forcing his reluctant teenage son Reda (Nicolas Cazalé) to drive them from their home in France to Saudia Arabia on a once-in-a-lifetime religious pilgrimage. No surprises that these mismatched protagonists learn from one another, yet this remains an engaging, compassionate film.
The secular Reda and his traditionalist Dad do encounter other people during their arduous trip through Europe and the Middle East: there's the ghostly old woman they pick up in the Bosnian countryside, and the garrulous Mustapha (Jacky Nercessian), who guides them around Istanbul. Ferroukhi's focus however remains firmly on the relationship between his two barely-communicating principal characters, showing us the cultural, linguistic and generational divides that separate these family members. "Doesn't your religion practice forgiveness?" despairs Reda after provoking further paternal disapproval.
"THE FEEL OF A CONTEMPORARY FABLE"
Wisely the director doesn't provide us with detailed information about the duo's past experiences, giving Le Grand Voyage the feel of a contemporary fable, whilst the air of mystery is further heightened by the elliptical editing style. And not only does this well-acted film successfully challenge cultural preconceptions of Islamic belief, but in the climactic scenes amidst the collective fervour of Mecca, it achieves an unexpected emotional intensity.
--Tom Dawson/ BBC - Review
By Jonathan Curiel
In this remarkable directorial debut, the stern father of a Muslim family in France has his teenage son drive him to Mecca for the religious pilgrimage known as the hajj. The son, who is irreligious and has a non-Muslim girlfriend, doesn't relate to his traditionalist father, nor does the dad relate to his son - a culture clash (and generational clash) that is the spine of their entire trip to Saudi Arabia.
"Le Grand Voyage" is a typical road movie in that the central characters meet memorable strangers along the way - people like an old, mysterious woman who insists on getting a ride with them, and a sly-talking man who helps them at a Bulgaria-Turkey border crossing. These chance meetings add intrigue to "Le Grand Voyage," but they also accentuate the differences between father and offspring. For example, the son (Nicolas Cazale, an Algerian-French actor- comic) is happy to get drunk with the man from the border, who assures him (using a Sufi aphorism) that it's OK for Muslims to consume alcohol. "Don't believe anything he says," warns the father, (Mohamed Majd, a Moroccan actor).
Made by Ismael Ferroukhi, who's a Moroccan-born director, "Le Grand Voyage" is an elliptical film that leaves out extraneous dialogue and details. In one scene, father discovers son with a belly dancer at a hotel; dad storms off, with son beside him apologizing and asking, "Don't you practice forgiveness in your religion?" The line is perfect - a reminder of the gulf between the leather jacket-wearing Reda and his immigrant father. Majd's character never answers Reda, and the next scene has both men atop a sand dune, closer than ever to their destination of Mecca.
Their characters are compelling and completely realistic, the acting is first-rate, and many scenes in this black-and-white movie (which was shot in different countries, including Saudi Arabia) are breathtaking. "Le Grand Voyage" is undoubtedly one of the few features to film its central characters in Mecca, in the middle of a hajj.
Ferroukhi has said his movie is "spiritual rather than religious or political. ... I wanted to make a film that was universal and accessible to everyone. ... It's a tribute to my parents and the 97 percent of Muslims that we never hear about in the Western world." However one interprets "Le Grand Voyage," the impression it leaves is unmistakable.
--Jonathan Curiel/ San Francisco Chronicle - Review
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