The Traveller: Confusing & Thought-Provoking Egyptian Drama
Traveller is an Egyptian film that follows Hassan on three
different days in his life in three different places. In Port Said 1948, Hassan
(El Nabawy) meets Nura (Abdel Nour),who he initially charms but ultimately rapes
aboard a ship. In Alexandria 1973, Nura’s daughter Nadia reaches
out to a much older Hassan (Sharif) upon the death of her last remaining
family member; her twin brother. Upon meeting her, he realises that he is her
father, but ultimately shirks the responsibility that comes with the discovery.
In Cairo 2001, Hassan meets his grandson Aly (Ramzy) and tries to establish a
connection with him.
To say that this film is muddled, vague and confusing
is an understatement. You won’t understand much while watching it, but a few
hours and a couple of thousand brain cells later; you’ll start to piece
together your own personal interpretation of the story and the characters. In
this reviewer’s opinion, the film is trying to say something about both
masculinity and family.
Hassan’s first conversation with Nura involves her
telling him about her admiration for brave men. A short while later he rapes
her after telling her that he knows she likes her men daring and forward;
almost as if justifying the assault. Hassan rapes Nura as a way of living up to
expectations of masculinity, as well as her own thrill-seeking carefree
approach to life. During the second act, these same expectations ended up
killing their son, who dies in the middle of a foolhardy stunt.
In the third act, upon meeting Hassan as an old man,
we find that he is still as susceptible as ever to society’s definition of
masculinity. He goads his grandson into picking a fight, hits on an attractive
doctor and glorifies dangerously stupid, highly macho acts that supposedly
prove your worth as a man. In contrast to his grandfather, Aly isn’t as
confined by these constructs. You also get the feeling that Aly is, more or
less, happy the way he is and that he only caves to his grandfather’s pressure
in an attempt to forge a deeper connection with his deceased uncle and namesake.
The familial theme is slightly less obscure. The film
shows Hassan’s growth over the years. When it starts out, his only interest is
getting the girl no matter what. During the second act, he realizes that his actions
bore him children that he has no desire to take responsibility for. Upon
growing old, he yearns for a family and attempts to delude himself into
thinking that he might have had a relationship with the son whose existence he
was never aware of until his death. He clings to the only family member he has
left, namely his grandson Aly, even though they have nothing in common.
Having such a boorish central character means that the film is
fighting an uphill battle; especially as
he never actually shows signs of remorse or regret. In fact, there is a part
when you can tell that he is this close to sexually assaulting another woman.
As the younger Hassan, El Nabawy comes across as predatory and sleazy while Sharif,
as the older version of Hassan, plays the befuddled and lonely old man very
well. The problem lies in the disconnect between the stages and in the fact
that both Nura and Nadia, as the film’s victims, come across as highly passive
and completely spineless. On the other hand, Ramzy’s Aly is possibly the only
well-rounded character. He is allowed to come across as strong yet vulnerable,
smart but impressionable; making him one of the more interesting characters.
Traveller is not a commercial film nor is it trying to be. It
may not entertain you, it may even infuriate you but it will get you thinking –
even if just to make sense of it. In addition, it’s worth a watch just for the
novelty of seeing an Egyptian period piece.